Sweet, glossy and bursting with flavor, Agen prunes have been part of south-west France’s gastronomic history since the 12th century. During that time, crusaders returned back from Syria with Damson plum trees which the Bendectine monks of Clairac, not far from Agen, crossed with their own, local plum variety. The result was a new kind of plum which they called the Ente plum. Since then, the plum has been used to produce the famous pruneaux d’Agen, named after the city from which the prunes were shipped all over Europe. Today, more than half of the production of the fruit is still taking place in the Lot-et-Garonne.
The dark plums are harvested between mid-August and mid-September. By that time, they are so ripe and sun-drenched that the trees either naturally drop them or need nothing more than a gentle shake to let them fall to into the harvesting nets. After careful sorting, the best fruits are dried and preserved for year-round use.
Agen prunes are not only delicious, but they are also extremely healthy and versatile. Full of fiber, iron and antioxidants, they can be eaten as a nutritious snack or incorporated into a wide variety of recipes. Try them in your oatmeal or cereals, in hearty cold-weather stews and in desserts; like this delectable prune and almond cake. It makes a wonderful teatime treat but is also a perefct way to round off a special dinner. In that case, serve it in tiny slices and with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, one or two Agen prunes soaked in red wine and a light dusting of icing sugar.
Agen Prune Cake with Armagnac
- 130g pruneaux d’Agen, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsps Armagnac
- 175g all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 75g ground almonds
- 125g soft butter
- 175g sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Soak the chopped prunes in the Armagnac and set aside while you get on with the rest of the recipe. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Butter a round 22 cm cake tin and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper. Dust the sides with a little flour, shaking off any excess. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add in the ground almonds and stir to combine. Using a hand-held or standing mixer, beat the butter and the sugar until they form a light paste. Add in the eggs, one by one, while continuing to beat. Add the vanilla extract. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet using a wooden spoon. Add the prunes along with the Armagnac and fold again. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for approximately 45 minutes. About 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time, check to see if your cake is browning too rapidly. Should that be the case, cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and continue to bake. Check to see if it’s done by inserting a wooden skewer into the center of the cake. It should come out clean.