14 November 2022

Plum Divine

Posted by the Cake Shop

This summer, my friend Nick Fu and I became obsessed with Korean temple food, after attending an event at Cordon Bleu. Nick has been my partner in crime for years – he’s the mind behind Nick’s Fine Foods, he makes the lemon and rosemary cake that’s always on the counter at the shop, and he’s been my companion on more food adventures than I can count. Once, when I was down, he bought me a giant greyhound made of chocolate to cheer me up.

Korean temple food is a far cry from lemon cake and chocolate greyhounds, but it sparked both of our imaginations in a profound way. The traditional diet of monks and nuns in Buddhist monasteries throughout Korea, this food reflects a deep connection to nature and a reverence for life. Recipes are vegetarian, making use of wild herbs, roots, fruits and flowers foraged from the mountains in which the temples are located. Seasonings are subtle and delicate; the idea is to treat each ingredient with care and empathy as another being in the world we inhabit. There’s a wonderful episode of Chef’s Table featuring Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan, the cook at Baekyangsa temple, which really illustrates the artistry that goes into making these dishes.

Nick and I were dying to try out some of these recipes for ourselves, but we were missing one vital ingredient: a simple syrup made from fermented plums. Determined to find it, I set out on a hunt across London. What started out as a search for a single ingredient turned into a journey of delight as I hit up every Asian grocer from Elephant and Castle to Chinatown, strolling down the aisles and collecting every variation of a plum that I laid eyes on. Jasmin cured plums. Plum tea. Plum jam. Plum and burdock drink – one of the best. I was transported back to my early 20s when I first discovered the universe of Asian food shops and fell in love with all these many plum possibilities; or before that, even, to my childhood, when my nan would stew the juicy maroon satsuma plums from our garden and serve them cold over sago or tapioca pudding with a lick of pouring cream.

Back at Nick’s house that evening, we cooked and talked and sampled the bonanza of plums I’d bagged. Salty, sweet and salty, sour, tart, semi-dried or hard like leather – why choose a favourite? As the night wore on, Nick began concocting an idea for a winter plum cake. Inspiration had struck: I knew that Korean plums would be at the heart of my Christmas cake recipe this year. The simple syrup I’d finally found was rich and full-blooded, with high notes of smoky lapsang: a perfect foil for earthy spices. I’d been experimenting with variations on the spice blends from Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, a favourite cookbook of mine. Nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, pimento and cubeb peppers – all the Christmas spices familiar to the English palate, broadened by the aromatic warmth of less well-known flavours. 

Part of what I love about developing a new Christmas cake recipe every winter is being able to incorporate the things I’ve fallen in love with over the last year. Korean plum and Ghanaian spice: two very different inspirations brought together over months of learning, exploration and conversations, for a Christmas hit of full fat joy.

We’ll be serving up Plum Divine fruit cake alongside our autumn rum restorative from our latest recipe pamphlet at the first Winter Warmers evening on Thursday 1 December.

Plum Divine Christmas cakes will be available to buy on the evening, or to order in three sizes:

Small – 4” – £27
Medium – 6” – £38
Large – 9” – £70

To order, email cake@lrbshop.co.uk.

Books mentioned in this blog post