The famous NY Times Marian Burros plum cake recipe.
Summer plums are delicious on their own. But juicy, ripe plums baked into an easy plum cake tastes even better. This lovely plum cake recipe (plum torte) from the New York Times’s Marian Burros is famous for a reason. Here’s the recipe.
The Best Plum Cake (Torte) Recipe of All
One of the most all-time popular recipes ever in the New York Times’s collection is the Marian Burros original plum torte recipe in the New York Times.
First published in September 1983, and then every subsequent September thereafter, the annual appearance of the NY Times’s plum cake recipe speaks to both its timelessness, and its success. When stone fruit season (peaches, apricots, plums, you know the drill) rolls around in late summer, this is the cake to bake. It’s easy prep time, simple ingredients, and foolproof method makes this a top summer dessert.
What’s the Difference: Plum Torte vs. Plum Cake
Wondering what, exactly, is a torte? Definitions vary, but generally, a torte is a short, smallish, usually rich or fancy cake-esque dessert, generally of European origin or inspiration. Food52 did a whole article on it that you can check out. A torte is a cake. But not all cakes are tortes. I know. Hang in there.
For purposes of this recipe, torte and cake can be used interchangeably. This is a smallish, single-layer cake (torte) made from combining a buttery cake batter and fresh seasonal plums.
Note that a torte is not a tart. A tart is a dish baked in a pastry shell.
Call it torte, call it cake. Either way, call it one of the most essential and delicious summer dessert recipes you will make all year.
Marian Burros’s Original Plum Torte: Recipe Notes
The New York Times’s plum cake recipe works so well for several reasons. First, the flavor is absolutely delicious. A simple vanilla cake batter bakes around juicy, sweet plums, which bake into sweet, red-purple goodness.
Second, the recipe is flexible. The Times’s version is written as “3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar,” and allows bakers to use an eight-, nine- or 10-inch cake pan.
While flexible, I do think that this kind of permissiveness can also be confusing and a bit vague. At least it was to me: Which cake pan is best? Which are the right proportions? Will I need the same amount of plums for all the cake pans?
Adapting The NY Times’s Plum Cake Recipe
My adapted recipe clarifies some common recipe questions into a clear, more precise recipe to follow. See below.
What Type of Plums to Use? How Many?
The plum cake recipe from the NY Times calls for 12 plums. The type of plum is unspecified, but the author means small Italian plums. This is the only way 12 plums, halved, will possibly fit in the cake pan.
If you cannot find Italian plums, you will use about 5 or 6 standard plums. Make sure the plums are ripe for the most flavor.
How to tell if your plums are ripe
A ripe plum will be soft to the touch, but not mushy. Do not use hard plums, which will be drier and tart instead of sweet.
What ingredients are in the NY Times plum cake recipe?
The ingredients are unchanged from the NY Times Marian Burros, except for the addition of vanilla extract, which rounds out the sweetness of the cake batter. You can easily mix it by hand in a large bowl with a whisk and spatula, but I prefer a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
You will need the following ingredients:
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces; 1 stick; 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- A pinch of salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- Pitted purple plums, ripe and juicy
- Sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, for topping
What Size Cake Pan to Use for Plum Cake
I prefer an 8- or 9-inch cake pan for this plum cake recipe.
I find that a 10-inch pan makes too flat a cake. A smaller cake pan gives a little more height to the cake. You will also only use about five or 6 standard plums or 10 to 12 Italian plums total.
How to Serve This Cake
Serve this plum cake at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream if you’d like. That said, you can never go wrong with a simple sprinkle of powdered sugar.
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The N.Y. Times Plum Cake (Plum Torte)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- pinch kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 5 or 6 ripe plums, pitted and halved, or 12 small, ripe Italian plums
- Whipped cream to serve (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8" or 9" springform or cake pan, and grease and line the bottom with a parchment paper round if using a cake pan.
- In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth and light. Scrape the bowl again.
- Add the salt, baking powder, and flour, and mix in the flour mixture just until fully combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the plum halves, skin side up, on top of the cake. Feel free to crowd them in there; the cake will rise around them. Dust with a little sugar and the cinnamon.
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the cake, or until a cake tester comes out clean, and the plums are juicy and bubbling.
- Let cool before releasing the cake from the springform pan or turning out onto a cake dish. Serve with fresh ice cream or whipped cream as you like. PRO TIP: A springform pan is preferable because the batter is a bit delicate. But if you are turning this cake out from a regular cake pan, never fear. Place a cooling rack directly over the cake pan, then in one swift, meaningful motion, flip the cake onto the rack. Remove the parchment. Then immediately flip it right side up again onto the serving plate.