Season: All | Active Time: 35 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, plus time to cool | Difficulty: 2 (Easy)
This recipe has two major sources of inspiration: The first is the red wine prunes and mascarpone dessert at Frankies Spuntino in Brooklyn. It’s a fantastically simple, delicious dessert—prunes cooked until soft and plump in a reduced red wine syrup, served over tangy mascarpone. The second is Marian Burros’s famous plum torte, featuring fresh Italian plums baked into a simple butter cake. As a prune lover, I wanted the flavors of the Frankies dessert with the ease of Burros’s cake, and so this mascarpone cake with red wine prunes was born. It might be the perfect dessert: delicious, elegant enough to bring to a dinner party, and so easy all you need are two mixing bowls to put it together.
Special Equipment: 9-inch cake pan
RED WINE PRUNES
8 ounces (227g) pitted prunes (about 30 small or 15 large)
1½ cups light red wine (12 oz / 355g), such as gamay or pinot noir
¼ cup sugar (1.8 oz / 50g)
Pinch of kosher salt
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ①
1 whole star anise (optional)
Butter for the pan
1 cup all-purpose flour (4.6 oz / 130g)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 large egg (1.8 oz / 50g), at room temperature
2 large egg yolks (1.1 oz / 32g), at room temperature
1 cup sugar (7 oz / 200g)
½ cup mascarpone (4 oz / 113g), at room temperature, plus more for serving
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 oz / 57g), melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon or orange zest
Make the red wine prunes: In a small saucepan, combine the prunes, red wine, sugar, salt, cinnamon, star anise (if using), and ½ cup (4 oz / 113g) water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the prunes are very soft but not falling apart and the wine is reduced to a thick syrup, 40 to 50 minutes (you should have about ¼ cup syrup). Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the prunes and red wine syrup to a small heatproof bowl. Set aside to cool completely.
Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of the cake pan, then line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Butter the parchment and set the pan aside.
Mix the dry ingredients: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt to combine. Set aside.
Mix the wet ingredients: In another medium bowl, whisk the whole egg, yolks, and sugar until the mixture is thick and pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in the mascarpone, melted butter, vanilla, and lemon zest until the mixture is smooth.
Mix the wet ingredients into the dry: Scrape the mascarpone mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture and whisk just until the batter is smooth.
Fill the pan and top with the prunes: Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer (it will seem thin, but that’s fine). Use a spoon to lift the prunes out of the syrup one at a time, letting any excess syrup drip back into the bowl, and dot them across the batter (if your prunes are large, cut them in half before arranging them over the batter). ② Reserve the wine syrup for serving.
Bake: Bake the cake until the top is golden brown, firm to the touch, and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out wet but mostly clean, 45 to 60 minutes. Tent the surface with a piece of foil if the prunes seem to be getting very dark toward the end of baking.
Cool the cake and serve: Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Cut around the sides with a small offset spatula or paring knife, then invert it onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment, then invert again onto a serving plate. Slice and serve with a dollop of mascarpone. Drizzle the red wine syrup over the top.
The prune mixture can be made 4 days ahead. Let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate. The cake, well wrapped and stored at room temperature, will keep up to 2 days.
① Use any warm spices besides cinnamon and star anise in the prune mixture, such as cloves or cardamom (think mulled wine!).
② Try not to drizzle any of the red wine syrup over the batter when arranging the prunes if you can help it. The syrup has a tendency to burn before the cake is finished baking.