How did cognitive dissonance lead to Plum Pan-Kuchens?

Posted on April 10, 2011


I am feeling quite conflicted. One might say I am in a state of cognitive kitchen dissonance.

The theory of cognitive dissonance refers to a negative state of mental conflict caused by contradictory ideas that are held simultaenously. It proposes the arousal of discomfort when one one hand, you believe this, but it cannot be since you also believe that! 

In short, your thoughts have declared war on one another. One must win, and you must be the arbitrar. It’s difficult to live in such a state of conflict, so you deny the rights of the thought, you justify the slaughter of the very idea, you blame the conspirators of such an inspiration, you rationalize any breach of the treaty of opinion… You work tirelessly to amend the constitution guiding your behavior, align the forces of your desire, and recreate peace of mind.

And today, the feature fight in the ring of my kitchen: Sustainability vs. Conventionality.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book on sustainable living, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year in food life. I am nearing the end of the book, which takes you through all four seasons of the year the author and her family made a comittment to growing and eating only local food, and at the same time, I am nearing the end of my wits — how can I harbor such a deep respect for the ideals exemplified in the book and yet head to Costco to take advantage of the deal on perfect plums that given this time year had to be harvested thousands of miles away? (Ah yes, “quality product of Chile” is stamped right on top of the non-recyclable plastic packaging containing these fruits.)

So, as you see, I am drawn in by the ideals of sustainability, but I’m having trouble bringing them to reality. I want to grow my own vegetables this summer… but I haven’t started yet because I’m waiting for my landlord to show me which plot in the backyard can be mine. I want to purchase more local produce… but the farmer’s markets aren’t open yet. I would like to avoid factory farmed meat… but the few alternatives in my area are ten times more expensive. I would like to eat more seasonal foods… but I can find such a wide variety of inexpensive imported foods at the supermarket.

So here I come with a recipe that is conflicted to its core. Plum Kuchen is an old world dessert that I have long tagged in my trusty Good Houskeeping Cookbook, but alas it was breakfast time, and in my state of kitchen confusion, Plum Pan-Kuchens were born.

They are cakes baked in a pan, but not in the oven. They take after a recipe served for dessert, but they feature at breakfast. They are named “kuchen” (after the German for “cake”), but stuffed with plums from Chile and whipped up in an American kitchen. It was because I wanted to save time and money on trips to the grocery store that I bought fruit in bulk at Costco, but now there is no time to spare in using up this fruit before its expiration. Oh, the irony!

Instead of serving these non-traditional pancakes with maple syrup, I took a cue from the original Plum Kuchen recipe, which calls for brushing the top of the prepared cake with watered down apricot or currant jelly, and created a melted strawberry jelly syrup that is brushed on top of the cakes after they are cooked.

How are you implementing food sustainability in your kitchen?

Plum Pan-Kuchens

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon brown sguar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Olive oil for pan
2 medium plums, pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons strawberry jam (also try apricot or currant)
1  tablespoon boiling water

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt. Add milk, melted butter, egg, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and stir to combine. Lightly brush a small skillet with olive oil and place over medium-low heat. Drop batter by tablespoons until filling the size of the skillet. Arrange several plum slices on top of batter. Brown the underside of the cake, then using a wide spatula, flip the cake to brown the fruited side. Remove cake to a plate, then repeat with the remaining batter.

While preparing remaining cakes, add the boiling water to your jam of choice, stirring to dissolve into a syrup. Brush syrup on top of the cooked cakes, and serve. Makes 6 large cakes.