Bite Sighs: Great-grandmother’s catastrophe cake


Audrey Linter’s prune cake from her grandmother’s recipe can be made as a Bundt cake or cupcakes.

Even the best chefs have their off days, so an amateur like me shouldn’t be too shocked to have a baking session worthy of the Marquis de Sade now and then.

Because of such a session, I’m no longer on speaking terms with prunes. It’s my great-grandma’s fault, really. It all started when I got the idea to honor Mother’s Day and Memorial Day by re-creating an old family recipe.

In a tiny little book published in 1914, I found a recipe for prune cake, handwritten by my great-grandma Mary Chenoweth.

It sounded pretty tasty and would be simple to adapt to a modern kitchen. In a frenzy of enthusiasm, I gathered the necessities.

Silly me, thinking to prevail over pastry. The ingredients resisted every effort to be made into cake. The stewed prunes leaked juice on the stove. I reached for the sugar and grabbed the sour milk by mistake, slopping it onto the floor. The sugar itself turned into flour, while the baking soda took on the guise of an empty box. As a kicker, the top half of the cake refused to come out of the pan!

Vulgarities were spoken, but the unattractive results were delicious enough to encourage another try. This time, I took a chance on a cupcake version. I think they’ll be worth it to you, too.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then grease and flour the bejeebers out of a Bundt pan. Trust me. Lots of grease and flour, or you’ll have lots of grief and swearing. If you prefer, use a cupcake pan and papers.

Add a tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of milk and set it aside to “sour.” If you have buttermilk on hand, use a cup of that instead. Chop one cup of prunes and simmer the pieces for 10 minutes in just enough water to cover them. Drain them well.

Cream together 1/2 cup of shortening and 1.5 cups of sugar. It’ll look like a bowl of snow. Blend in three eggs and try not to think about Frank Zappa and huskies.

Sift together 2.25 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of baking soda, one teaspoon of baking powder, and one teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Add this to the sugar mixture alternately with the milk, blending well after each addition. Blend in the prunes.

Scrape the batter into your prepared pan, or spoon it into the cupcake liners. Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes; cupcakes will be done in 20 minutes.

Let the cake rest in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and (fingers crossed) invert it onto a plate.

You can dust the results with powdered sugar or serve plain. If you’re feeling extra decadent, try a little sweetened cream cheese as a simple frosting.

For all of the aggravation, the cake still turned out to be a hit, taste-wise. I may befriend prunes again, after a brief timeout.


— Audrey Lintner can be reached at


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