SOCCER SEASON WITH SCHLAG

After years of resistance, I became a Soccer Mom. It wasn’t the stereotype that kept me at bay. My mom was also a Soccer Mom. Given, she was never the sweater-draped-smartly –over-your -shoulders variety. Jeanne was more the scream-really-loudly-even-if-your-kid-stinks sort.

No, my aversion to soccer stemmed from a refusal to give up Sundays with the family. All week, we shuttle the kids around from school to gymnastics/play date/religious school to homework to dinner to collapse. As anyone with kids knows, life often feels like a tag-team marathon. So, why should I sacrifice Sundays (especially football Sundays) at the altar of more organized activity?

In the end, I decided that our kids needed to learn how to play on teams. As a true suburbanite, I played soccer, softball, and swam. I was horrible at all three, but cherished the experience –the uniform, the camaraderie, keeping track of our records. For some reason, being the best never factored into my equation of team sports. Call me a sacrilegious competitor, but I hope my kids will feel the same. So, last weekend, my daughter donned her first pair of shin guards and free Sundays faded into our family’s past, like diapers and pacifiers.

In my nostalgic state, I couldn’t help think about the Germans. During my junior year in college, I spent a semester studying in Berlin –one of those mind-blowing experiences where I sucked down history, language and culture with a passion only 20-year olds can sustain. But amid the Sprockets and squatters, I discovered one particularly endearing German tradition: Spazieren gehen, translated literally as “Outside going.” On any given Sunday, Germany’s gardens, parks, and forests host a bevy of sausage-legged women walking sausage-shaped dogs. They amble around, chatting and exposing themselves to the all-important fresh air. Germans are big on fresh air.

After dutifully airing themselves out for roughly an hour, Germans always stop –with clocklike precision—to eat cake, “Kuchen Essen.” Usually, the cake was good enough to entice me –even in my laziest and most hung over state—to partake in Spazierengehen. My favorite was a plum tart known in Germany as Pflaumenkuchen. I always loved the custard-like pockets of batter that formed around each plum. And, as is the custom in Germany, this cake is usually served with Schlag, or fresh unsweetened whipped cream. Like wine and parmesan cheese, everything is better with Schlag.

A few days before the Dawn of the Soccer Era, I had a dream about Pflaumenkuchen . Convinced that this dream held some deep message of providence, I immediately set out to find the perfect recipe. Dorie Greenspan delivered a pretty darn good one, Flip-Over Plum Cake from Baking: From My Home to Yours. Since plums are still in season, I picked up some small Italian ones at the Farmer’s Market.

My daughter’s first soccer game was a success. She was not the star of the team, but seemed to enjoy discussing the final score with her teammates. Her soccer uniform (which she wears more like a gown) is adorable. After a lovely day gallivanting in the soccer fields of Manhattan, we went home for Pflaumenkuchen. Maybe the Soccer Era won’t be so bad after all.

Flip-Over Plum Cake

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Ingredients:

2 lb ripe but firm plums, preferable Italian prune plums, pitted

1 ½ cups sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground coriander

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 cup whole milk

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp pure almond extract

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces (NOTE: I used ½ a stick, which was more than enough.)

Directions:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have at hand a 9X12-inch baking pan, preferably Pyrex or porcelain.

Cut each plum into 4 to 6 pieces and toss into a bowl. Add ½ cup of the sugar, the cinnamon, ginger, and coriander, stir the plums around and then let them sit, stirring from time to time, while you prepare the batter. They will give up some juice and syrup will develop.

Put the remaining 1 cup sugar,; the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl. Whisk to blend, then pour in the milk and extracts and whisk again, so you have a nice smooth batter.

Put the butter in the baking pan and melt it in the oven, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven.

Give the batter a light whisking and pour it over the hot butter –it will probably set around the edges immediately. Scatter the plums over the batter and drizzle over whatever syrup has accumulated in the bowl.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the top is golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes, or let cool to room temperatures.

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