I wouldn't dream of laying claim to a shared recipe for Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes with the venerated Julia Child had not we shared a brief but meaningful and personal bonding over memories of Croquembouches past and meatballs present in what was to be the twilight of her career. And because this recipe as published in Baking with Julia is uncharacteristically flawed, I instinctively feel she would approve my co-ownership with my corrective collaborations.
Let's start with the original recipe, which appears in Baking with Julia. The cookbook instructs you to take four plums, cut into halves in order to place half a plum in each of 12 small soufflé cups. Lord knows I wrestled with that one but surely you too see the flaw here. Things become increasingly inscrutable with directions to spoon 2 tablespoons of batter into each of the 12 cups, taking special care to keep the plums above batter level. Half a plum is in no danger of drowning in a mere 2 tablespoons of batter, so what's up with that? Anyway, I didn't fuss one bit with any of the other instructions, ingredients or techniques, but my adjustments to the batter-to-plum-to-number-of-servings ratio results in eight scrumptious, caramely sugar-crusted cakes.
NOTE: This particular recipe has a prominent "Contributing Baker" credit, who shall remain nameless here, so I blame not Julia, not one little bit.
Now for the story you're really waiting for. At a book signing for her new Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, I arrived early in order to ensure a proper meeting. After the usual pleasantries, I hesitantly put forth my own variation on her classic Croquembouche recipe. My mom actually came up with delightful Christmassy twist: we pulverize striped peppermint candy canes and fold the crunchy red and white crumbs into the cream filling. Julia's eyes lit up, warbling "Oh my, that sounds absolutely lovely! How wonderful." Phew! We continued our conversation a bit longer, well maybe even more than a bit, but the Muse of history must now draw her veil across our other shared confidences.
Soon enough Julia was swarmed with well-wishers and found herself towering over a scrum of eager acolytes. I hovered around the periphery, reluctant to tear myself away from her radiant presence. Just then a waiter — oldish, shortish, slowish, baldish and bored-ish — ambled along with a surprisingly large platter of what appeared to be a family-sized serving of spaghetti and meatballs. On closer inspection the meatballs, tennis-ball size monsters in red sauce, were set upon a haystack of faux "pasta" composed of canned shoe-string potatoes. Our Muse isn't offering up any explanations on that odd concoction either, but no matter.
Our heroine hungrily espied the meatballs with a resigned air of disappointment; there was no way she could break free from the ever-increasing crowd pressing in. Instantly I knew what needed to be done. Firmly planting my hands on the surprised waiter's shoulders I hissed, "Mrs. Child needs a meatball. Now. Bring her that tray." And I pushed and I pushed and I pushed him through the tightly packed throng. JC kept constant watch on our steady progress with increasing optimism. And finally — mission accomplished! She deftly snatched a meatball and popped the entire thing into her mouth. (It bears repeating that they were the size of tennis balls.) Her twinkling eyes met mine. Oh yes, she knew who loved her best that night. She smiled as well as anyone might with meatball chipmunk cheeks. That her ability to converse with the other fans was now virtually impossible was no concern of mine, nor of hers.
Click here for the recipe for Julia and Sean's Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes.