Easy Italian Plum Cake

Sometimes things don’t have to be complicated.

Like chores. With our youngest going to college locally this semester household chores somehow got into a boondoggle. Then came the chore wheel and the quagmire of who was supposed to do what evaporated as the house settled into a clean (or as clean as we get) routine. I got a chuckle when I realized that every time MOM (i.e. me) was on dump duty or bathroom cleaning I was WOW. I love the fact that being upside down makes me wow!

Chore wheel

Another thing that isn’t too complicated is getting our dog Oliver to come back into the house after chasing bunny rabbits. Just open the back door and yell, “Steak” and he comes dashing. It works because he is a very clever Jack Russell Terrier, who has a formidable understanding of the english language. So much so that we’ve gotten into the habit of spelling, rather than saying, certain words. A friend cautioned us against making him food-centric, but I’ve found it very helpful over the years, especially owning a breed of dog who thinks about whether or not he wants to obey. Plus it costs us nothing. I simply cut up the scraps leftover from any meat dinner we have and pop those morsels into a bag we store in the freezer. Oliver knows he’ll get a frozen tidbit if he comes running at the “S” word.

Oliver coming home for steak

This week I was tickled to come across the most un-complicated cake ever. One of those oh so simple recipes that I somehow missed when Marian Burros first published it in the NYT thirty plus years ago, but which thankfully circled around and around, ultimately finding me again through a news feed. If you have the ingredients on hand you can pop it into the oven in less than ten minutes. An hour later you have the perfect Friday afternoon plum tea cake. Which can then morph into Saturday morning breakfast before you head out to the Farmer’s Market. Or turn into a late night snack as you finish your homework.

Fresh out of the oven italian plum cake

While the recipe is clearly adaptable, which you can read about here, I was possessed to make the original version which features Italian plums. This was a tad complicated due to Mother Nature’s mercurial nature. Last spring, just as the blossoms had come out on many of the fruit trees we had a very hard frost. A bit of a weather tizzy. The result was zero cherries, zero peaches, and zero plums. This summer and fall I’ve been concerned for all the farmers in our happy valley who rely upon those crops for their income. I’ll also admit to being a bit cranky as I watched other food bloggers posting their scrumptious recipes featuring stone fruits that were not available in Massachusetts all over their blogs and social media feeds. But as I know from years of food styling, most foods are available if you’re willing to hunt them down, and pay for them. This proved true for Italian plums this September – the hunting part at least.

Italian plums

Making Italian plum cake

Use as many plums as you can fit in the pan

My local Big Y had a small display of Italian plums when I popped in earlier this week so I grabbed a bag and headed home. Turns out one bag was not nearly enough though because I needed to test and retest this recipe. Not because it was hard to make or had failed in any way, but rather because it was so dang good! Incredibly simple and delicious. So I went back to the store yesterday, and after a brief moment of panic when the plums weren’t where they’d been the day before, I found them and bought six more bags.

Marrian Burros super simple plum cake

As I forced myself to stop eating this cake straight out of the pan I recalled owning a set of delightful fall fruit plates my Mom had gotten me years ago. Remembering where they were, and subsequently being able to find them, gave me the excuse to enjoy another slice.

I really must stop…

Limoge fall plum plate

Please may I have one more slice of plum cake

Easy Italian Plum Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2/3 – 3/4 cup plus 2-3 Tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract, optional

12 – 14 Italian plums, washed and halved with pits removed

1 small lemon, optional

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter a 10″ springform pan (or you can use 8″ or 9″ if that is what you have). You can either line the base with parchment first (extending the sides outside of the pan) or you can simply make sure to put a jelly roll pan beneath in case some of the butter drips out.

Cream the butter and sugar for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy. If your butter isn’t really, really soft you will not get light and fluffy – just aim for thoroughly incorporating. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. After beating in the eggs your mixture might be a bit soup-y which is perfectly okay. If you want you can add an extract. Then pour in flour, baking powder, and salt. mixing until all is combined, at this point the batter is quite thick (as you can see in the photo). Spread the batter into your springform pan. It will be quite thin. Add the plums, cut side down, but don’t press. I like as many plums as I can possibly fit. If you’d like squirt the juice from half a lemon over the plums then sprinkle with the extra 2-3 Tablespoons of sugar. It’s good with or without.

Bake the cake for one hour. Remove and cool for a few minutes. Carefully run a thin sharp knife around the edge to loosen the cake then open the spring latch. If your cake is on parchment you can slide it onto a cooling rack. If not allow to cool sufficiently to be able to move it onto a flat plate.

Want to see what other bloggers have done with this cake or how they’ve extended the story? Check out this half-dozen

Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

Merrill Stubbs at Food52

PJ Hamel at King Arthur Flour

Molly Wizenberg at Orangette

Erin Boyle at Reading My Tea Leaves

Lynne Rosetto Kasper at The Splendid Table

Some plum-y notes:

1.  I have now made this cake many, many time. It seems odd, but if you half the recipe it needs almost as much time as a full recipe to bake – 50-55 minutes. 2. Having made it with vanilla extract and almond extract I find I like it best with the later. 3. The original recipe called for 1 cup sugar. Later this was reduced to 3/4 cup. I am fine with 2/3 cup. You need to go by your personal taste. 4. It is purported to freeze will, which I cannot say as we gobble it up to fast to get one in (and then out of) the freezer.



Filed under 50 Recipes

11 responses to “Easy Italian Plum Cake

  1. Sandy

    Thanks for sharing another great recipe. As always, I love your blog and photos. FYI..our little Havanesse, Lizzy also comes running whenever I say an ‘S’ word!! It’s not steak…but does include any food items dropped during prep.

  2. olivialeone

    This looks amazing and I hope I get to be one of the people who can taste it! Reminds me of being in Southern France and being sent out into the back yard to pick plums for tarts. Yum!

  3. I am going to be selfless and put in my vote to be a recipient of this cake to be shared with other knitters on Tuesday, GF, of course. How can you choose someone who is going to eat the entire thing themselves instead of selfless me who intends to share???

  4. Moira Greto

    This looks like heaven.

  5. Ann Hallock

    What a lovely blog post, Cynthia, and I’m not just saying that to win the plum cake! 🙂

  6. Commenters at the NY Times says this freezes very well–just FYI. The article in the Times about this cake (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/dining/marian-burros-plum-torte-recipe.html?_r=0) had a picture of Marian Burros’ self-published cookbook where this recipe first appeared. That reminded me of “Goodbye Dining Hall, Hello Homestyle” another self-published cookbook (which is still on my shelf). At first I thought it was written by your mother, Cynthia, then I remembered it was your classmate, Zaidee.

    • If I had an iota of space in my freezer I would be making (and freezing) dozens of these.

      I didn’t read through all the comments, but one that caught my eye and proved to be helpful, was about putting a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan beneath the cake to catch any drips of butter. Given how long this recipe is around I can only imagine the treasure trove of information in the comments section.

      • I’ve done a little more researching on “Easy But Elegant” (the self-published cookbook by Burros which became conventionally published and has gone through many editions)–apparently, the whole basis of the book was recipes for entertaining which could be easily (or partially) made, then frozen, heated up, or finished at the last minute, allowing the hostess to spend time with her guests, not slaving in the kitchen. Knowing that, it makes sense this is a good freezer cake.

        I sent Tony off to find Italian plums this morning but alas, no luck. I suppose I could try Whole Foods but alas, I don’t have the stamina to face that place. Maybe tomorrow. I did read that stone fruit crops have been non-existent all over New England this season, due to the drought.

      • That’s so sweet that Tony is hunting down Italian plums for you. The reason they are close to non-existent is the frost last spring. Blossoms out, frost came, and all the blossoms died. No blossom = no fruit. So sad.

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