9.6.12 A Plum Job

Tart 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
The recipe for this torte first appeared in Marian Burros' column in the New York Times in September 1983. I've been making it for more than two decades, but I remember it as if anew every August when Italian plums appear at the greenmarket. Times readers clamor for it so often that it's run in the paper more than a dozen times. Amanda Hesser also included it in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Why is it so popular? Hesser deems it a "nearly perfect recipe" and describes it as "crusty and light, with deep wells of slackened, sugar-glazed fruit." Naturally, I couldn't leave well enough alone, but have tweaked it to include a few flavors that I think further exalt this immensely satisfying and absurdly easy recipe. Any leftovers should be covered with foil, stored on the counter and eaten the next morning for breakfast, with or without a dollop of yogurt. Now that's living.
Plum 790 xxx
italian jobs
Italian plums are OK eaten out of hand but really come into their own when stewed with a little sugar, cinnamon and orange zest, or baked in rustic tarts and cakes. (Technically, a torte tends to have less flour, more nuts and an icing, so I'm not sure why this isn't called a cake—maybe the addition of whole fruit?) They are also excellent dried, as in "prunes." Their meaty flesh is a yellow-greenish color that turns a beautiful dark pink when cooked.
Cut 790 xxx
tossed and glossed
The original recipe called for a sprinkling of lemon juice over the cut plums, but I decided to toss mine with a little sugar and some balsamic vinegar. You may want to adjust the amounts depending on how ripe/sweet your fruit is.
Closeup 790 xxx
in the pink
My other changes include the addition of cardamom—its spicy floral notes go so perfectly with plums—and a little lemon zest that just brightened the whole thing up a touch. I also sprinkled some coarse turbinado sugar over the entire surface to further enhance the crunchy crust. (Note: I used gluten-free flour and, though it doesn't puff up quite as much, it was still quite delicious.) To get a sense of how much people love this torte, read this amusing story here. Bake one now while Italian plums are at their peak, and join the legions of fans.

Plum Torte

adapted from the New York Times; serves 8
  • — 12 Italian plums, halved and pitted (other plums are also fine)
  • — 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • — 3/4 cup organic cane sugar, plus 1-2 additional tablespoon
  • — 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • — 2 large eggs
  • — 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • — 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • — 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • — 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • — Large pinch sea salt
  • — 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • — 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the pitted plum halves with the balsamic vinegar and 1-2 tablespoons sugar (depending on tartness of fruit) and set bowl aside.

Sift the flour with the baking powder, cardamom and salt.

Cream the sugar and butter in another large bowl (use a hand mixer, or use your stand mixer) until light and creamy. Add the flour mixture, then beat in the eggs. Stir in the lemon zest.

Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9” springform pan. Place the plum halves, skin side up, on top of the batter. Dust lightly with cinnamon, then sprinkle the entire surface generously with turbinado sugar.

Bake until golden and the plums are bubbly, 45-60 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before unmolding. Serve plain or with whipped cream or crème fraîche.

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

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

Download recipe  Download Recipe


love this! i made a upside down plum cake the other day. tasty but not quite photo worthy yet! maybe i will try this one! xx
andrea on September 6, 2012 at 8:34 am —
It's a classic, Andrea. I don't think you'll be disappointed!
laura on September 6, 2012 at 8:38 am —
wow, looks and sounds amazing, can't wait to try this one soon, xo
Stephanie on September 6, 2012 at 11:57 am —
Love the gluten-free flour. What is is it made of? This looks delicious and appeals to my Indian palette! (We love fruity desserts, not so crazy about chocolate.) Thanks for sharing!
Amin Ahmad on September 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm —
Amin, it contains cornstarch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, milk powder, tapioca flour, potato starch and , xanthan gum. I don't do a ton of baking and I often use my own concoction when I do, but this works pretty well for cakes. (It's also rather expensive.) I think the addition of milk powder, which is unusual, adds something extra.
laura on September 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm —
I have been obsessed with rustic tarts lately and am trying to perfect the gluten free version of a gallette. Can you tell me what recipe you use for gallette dough or even how you would change this plum torte recipe into a gluten free one. I have been off gluten for two years since I was diagnosed with Celiac and am craving a good crust. I have come close in taste but can't seem to get the dough to not fall apart. I have added guar gum to recipes but to no avail. Please send some of your wisdom my way. I miss you. Lisa
Lisa on September 7, 2012 at 3:06 am —
Lisa!! I included a link in this post for a good gluten-free flour, developed by Thomas Keller. It makes a pretty good substitute for any recipe calling for all-purpose flour. I also used it for this galette—http://gluttonforlife.com/2012/07/19/odds_ends—and was pleased with the results. Is it 100% the same as a wheat crust? No, but it's not bad at all. xoxo
laura on September 7, 2012 at 9:24 am —
Here in Chiavari (Italy) there is an open marketplace in a plaza on my way to school, but is always closing just when school is let out. Tomorrow, Saturday, it's open all day, and I don't have classes, so I'm heading there. I just wish I had an oven in which to make this torte - it would be PERFECT here with all the plums they have. Sigh. Next time I come here, I'm getting an apartment so I can cook.
The Wimpy Vegetarian on September 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm —
Thanks so much for this link, Laura! Grazie mille. I zipped over to it and checked out the apps recommended for the iphone. I'm downloading them before going to bed so I can have some fun with them. Oh, and proficient is not exactly how I would describe my Italian :-). But it sure is fun learning such a beautiful language, and I've met some really nice people through my classes.
The Wimpy Vegetarian on September 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm —
I don't feel sorry for you, Susan!! ;-) What are you studying there? (she asked, prepared to be deeply jealous)
laura on September 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm —
Sounds wonderful! You must be quite proficient by now. As for your iPhone photos, I've been meaning to share these great tips I came across: http://tinyurl.com/chucnrx Buon viaggio!
laura on September 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm —
I've been studying Italian at home for 2 1/2 years, and I'm here studying at an Italian Language School, Nel Blue. They do a fantastic job. Several people I study with at home, along with our teacher, are all traveling with me. Last day of class is next Friday. I went to the marketplace today, and took some photos -- they won't be terrific as they were with my iphone...
The Wimpy Vegetarian on September 8, 2012 at 12:26 pm —