Once I was a Plum Tree

There is a reason why The New York Times reprints this recipe every year.

One of the nice things about biking along the Charles is the built-in pit stop at Whole Foods on River Street. OK, OK, I like going to Whole Foods on the weekends. In fact, there’s a Whole Foods sweet spot. Around 1PM on the weekends, I guarantee you vendors will have their products on display with samples galore. I stopped planning weekend lunches long ago, for I know that there will always be some cheese, olives, and a bite of something interesting, be it ful medames, cranberry walnut bread, or even a cannoli, all which I have enjoyed in the past six months at local Whole Foods.

A few weeks back, I dropped by the Whole Foods for my weekend repast, and was shocked to find a display of plums on sale for .99/lb. Yes! At Whole Foods, AKA Whole Paycheck. As luck would have it, I had stumbled across a plum cake recipe the day before which looked very easy. I bought half a dozen plums and biked home.

Plums will only be in season for another week and a half.

And, the plum cake was divine! We gobbled it up that night. Seriously, we destroyed that cake, and there were only three of us at dinner. It was soft. It was buttery. It was moist. It was the best plum cake I’ve ever had.

We devoured it.

The next day I biked straight to the Whole Foods from work, sighed when I realized the sale was ending that day, loaded up my basket, went home, and was thrilled to discover the recipe doubled perfectly. I wrapped one plum cake in the freezer for the next time we have surprise dinner guests with a sweet tooth, and brought the other cake to my mom’s for Rosh Hashana.

I share this story with you only now because I realize plum season is coming to a close, and I want to encourage you to buy the last of the plums and make this cake.

This recipe isn’t very secret. In fact, it is the most requested recipe The New York Times has ever published, and it has been published at least once a year since its first printing in 1981.

Original Plum Torte (or, as my mother said, “Svetchakuchen”)

by Marian Burros


3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup unbleached flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

2 eggs

12 halves pitted purple plums

sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and eggs and beat well.

3. Spoon the batter into a spring form of 8,9 or 10 inches. Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.

The dough magically rises in the oven, encasing these purple gems.

Note: I did the plums the skin side up the first time but thought the cake was a little soggy around where they’d sunken into the batter. Next time I did them skin facing down, figuring that would help with that problem. It made a little difference, but you can do it either way and the cake will turn out great.

4. Bake one hour, approximately. Remove and cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. Or cool to lukewarm and serve plain or with whipped cream.

5. To serve torte that was frozen, defrost and reheat it briefly at 300 degrees.

NOTE: To freeze, double-wrap the tortes in foil, place in a plastic bag and seal.


8 thoughts on “Once I was a Plum Tree

  1. I would not have forgiven William Carlos Williams, had he eaten plums bound for this cake. It was terrifically, stupendously, amazingly delicious.

  2. This looks so yummy! One question: how much cinnamon did you use and when did you add it? Was it at the end with the sugar and lemon juice on top of the plums? (Ok, I just realized that’s more than one question)

    • Hi Stephanie,
      Those are all great questions, ones that I asked myself the first time I read the recipe. I sprinkled the cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice all at the same time. I think I started with a teaspoon of each, gauged how much of the cake I covered, and added more as necessary. And thanks so much for catching that missing detail!

  3. I made this for dessert for my parents, brother and nephew. It was a big hit, especially with the grown-up set – my little nephew was more interested in having ice cream, but that’s just how he rolls. There’s only a little left over and I’m not sure it’s going to make it until morning!

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