Purple Plum Torte

This plum torte is both the most often published and the most requested recipe in the Times archives. By my count, Marian Burros (who was given the recipe by Lois Levine, with whom Burros wrote Elegant but Easy) ran the recipe in the paper twelve times. And when I asked readers for recipe suggestions for this book, 247 people raved about the torte. The plum torte happily lives up to its billing: crusty and light, with deep wells of slackened, sugar-glazed fruit.

I’ve thought a lot about why this torte struck such a chord with people: the answer, I think, is that it’s a nearly perfect recipe. There are only eight ingredients, all of which, except for the plums, you probably already have in your kitchen. There are just four steps, most of which are one sentence long. You need no special equipment, just a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a pan. The batter is like pancake batter, which most everyone is comfortable making. And baked plums are sweet and tart, making the flavor more complex and memorable than a hard-hitting sweet dessert.

It also freezes well. “A friend who loved the torte said that in exchange for two, she would let me store as many as I wanted in her freezer,” Burros wrote one year when she ran the recipe. “A week later, she went on vacation for two weeks and her mother stayed with her children. When she returned, my friend called and asked, ‘How many of those tortes did you leave in my freezer?’

“‘Twenty-four, but two of those were for you.’

“There was a long pause. ‘Well, I guess my mother either ate twelve of them or gave them away.’”

In later versions of the plum torte recipe, Burros cut back the sugar to 3/4 cup—feel free to if you like—and added variations, such as substituting blueberries or apples and cranberries for the plums (I haven’t tried either, but Burros was a fan). She jumped the shark, in my view, though, when she created low-fat variations with mashed bananas and applesauce. While I respect her enthusiasm for innovation, this is one recipe that needs no improvement.

I like this best with oval Italian plums, available in early fall.–Amanda Hesser

LC When This Recipe First Appeared Note

September 21, 1983: “Food Notes,” By Marian Burros.

Special Equipment: 9-inch springform pan

Plum Torte Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon, or more or less, depending on the tartness of the plums
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 purple plums, halved and pitted
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or more or less, depending on the tartness of the plums
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

  • 1. Heat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.
  • 2. Cream 1 cup sugar and the butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer (or in a mixer) until light in color. Add the dry ingredients and then the eggs.
  • 3. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Cover the top of the batter with the plum halves, skin side up. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the lemon juice, adjusting to the tartness of the fruit. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
  • 4. Bake the plum torte until the cake is golden and the plums are bubbly, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on a rack, then unmold.
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Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Sarina Mohanty

Oct 24, 2010

For this recipe, I substituted 1 1/2 cups of blueberries for the plums and eliminated the lemon juice. The torte came out wonderfully moist, and just sweet enough. The texture of my batter resembled pate choux dough, not the pancake batter consistency noted in the introduction of the recipe. I spread it with a spatula until it was an inch thick, and it continued to spread and fill the pan once it was in the oven. You can get eight to ten servings out of this, but likely you’ll hand out seconds, so don’t plan on feeding more than four to six people. Overall, a simple and delicious recipe.

Comments
Comments
  1. Mary says:

    Bookmarked! I love to bake with Italian plums in late summer and early fall. I love them with cardamom. Too bad I have about 10 months to wait before they come in season again!
    :)

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Depends on where you’re at, Mary. We did give consideration to the season before running this recipe, but we’ve seen some lovely purple plums lingering at the greenmarket and local stores in New York just this past weekend, so we decided to share the recipe, given how dearly NYT readers love it…

  2. Maria Peplowski says:

    I have made this recipe countless times, always with Italian plums and as Amanda says, it is the perfect recipe. It is super easy to put together and never ever fails. The result is amazing for just a few simple ingredients. I have always wanted to try making it with other fruit but when plum season comes along they always win.

  3. Lan says:

    I will try this recipe with pears! Should I coat the pears with powder sugar to prevent them from releasing too much juice? This will be good!

    • David Leite says:

      Lan, sugar causes fruit to release liquid. Pears aren’t particularly juicy fruit, so I’d just plop them in. When you use really juicy fruit, it’s always best to toss them in flour; it helps absorb some of the moisture. But if you worked and studied at Lenôtre, something tells me you already know that!

  4. Lan says:

    Hi David,
    Oops I meant cornstarch…I have several ripe barlett pears and I’m trying tonight!

    • David Leite says:

      That would work. But My feeling is the batter is thick enough you won’t really need it—unless your pears are super, splendiferously juicy. Then toss in extra flour or cornstarch.

  5. Esther says:

    I made this last weekend and it was a big hit with my cake-hating husband. He loved it so much he refused to call it a cake just to keep his prejudice intact. I told him it was a torte not a cake, which sparked more debate because my son insisted it tasted like pie. Well, it doesn’t really matter does it? It was extremely easy to make and it tasted inexplicably super delicious despite its few simple ingredients. Now I’m really convinced that Leite’s does not post recipes that are less than excellent. Thanks a lot and keep the recipes coming!

    • David Leite says:

      First, I’m thrilled that your husband enjoyed the cake so much–even though he doesn’t look fondly upon them! Second, thank you kindly for your warm words about LC. We really do test every recipe that goes on the blog, and it’s comments such as your that makes it all worth it!

  6. Joellen says:

    Just a quick note to say that I make this recipe all the time. I use anything from Plums to peaches to blueberries. It is a fantastic receipe.

  7. Rachel says:

    I ran to my computer after hearing Amanda Hessar on NPR talking about her new book, “The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century.” Next I ran out to get the plums. I couldn’t find Italian plums so I used standard purple plums which weren’t very tasty. It didn’t matter. The torte was spendid and was quick. lt was devoured by my husband, son, and me. I don’t make desserts often, but I will be making this one again and again experimenting with different fruits.

  8. Beth Price, LC Recipe Testing Director says:

    Isn’t it wonderful to have such a splendid recipe in your repertoire? Please let us know about your fruit variations.

    Beth Price
    Director of Recipe Testing

  9. Shawna says:

    This sounds delish! I make a plum kuchen that is similar to this and I love it. I cannot wait to try this. Yum yum for the plum :)

  10. Diane says:

    A big winner in our house – there were no Italian plums, so the usual purples did just fine. Pears were a little too watery. I am excited to try the blueberry. This is a keeper :)

  11. Loretta says:

    Wish I’d had the foresight to read through all the comments before baking this torte. I agree with the poster who commented that the batter is more like pate a choux than pancake batter. Mine was so thick (I used large eggs) that I added another egg just to be able to spread it. I cooked it about 10 minutes more than suggested in the directions. Italian plums were not available so I used 8 regular black plums. It’s out of the oven now and looks pretty good. Hope it tastes as good as everyone says!!

  12. Gary says:

    When plums are in season, I can’t get enough of them… and, in this torte, cinnamon brightens the plums’ deep flavor.

  13. I made this lovvelllyyyy torte using your site as a main reference and absolutely loved it! I really didn’t expect it to be so so scrummy, considering how simple it is, but it’s a keeper of a recipe for sure :) thank you.

  14. Bev Haffey says:

    Just made this great cake, not tasted it yet, but it looks so much like the one I have, which has a crumb topping, and is spread on a cookie sheet. Thought this would be a nice change but still used the prune plumbs. Thanks!

  15. Amanda says:

    Have just made and eaten this cake – and am now full & happy. Excellent recipe, couldn’t be more simple and shows off the fresh plums from my tree to their best advantage!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      We envy you that plum tree, Amanda. As well as that cake on your counter…

  16. Louise Hyson says:

    I’ve been making Marian Burros’ Plum Torte since it first appeared in the NY Times. It is delicious, easy, enjoyed by all and in February when I take one out of the freeze, it is even more enjoyable, if at all possible. It is truly a wonderful cake.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      I don’t think endorsements come any more glowing than that, Louise. Many thanks for the insights.

    • Lindsay Myers says:

      Having sampled many a Plum Torte, Louise, I am astounded that you can manage to save one until February! Perhaps I need to up my willpower, since a midwinter plum dessert sounds like the best treat imaginable.

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