The Torte

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Make this cake.

In case Deb, Amelia (whose enthusiasm inspired me), or the scores of others who have written about this cake did not convince you, I am here to repeat that this is one of the best recipes ever. If you don’t consider yourself a baker, this will change all of that. It could not be easier, and the results could not be more impressive. It looks like something you’d find in a rustic French bakery and tastes even better. Seriously, people, make this cake.

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The recipe has a long and glorious history, it was published in the New York Times many, many times (beginning in 1983). Often, it seems, at the request of their readers. The cake itself is a simple butter cake, that comes together in a couple of minutes. The batter is spread into a springform pan (sure, you can probably make this in a regular cake pan but the presentation will suffer) and topped with fresh fruit and some sugar. The fruit sinks into the butter batter and creates little pockets of jam-azing fruit. The cake browns nicely at the edges giving you plenty of browned-butter goodness and a nice compliment to the fruit. The original recipe calls for plums, which may be the ultimate version of this cake. I’ve made that one twice in the last week (we’ve had company!). But yesterday I made a version with some late summer raspberries that was almost equally fantastic. I think apricots would be super, even blueberries. I am looking forward to cranberries and apples in a few weeks.

After making this twice, the recipe is now memorized—it is that simple. And having this beautiful recipe memorized is a very good use of brain space. This is the solution to every time you are having people over and need a home baked dessert that is delicious, foolproof, and impressive.

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I am decades late to this recipe, so I am curious to hear from those of you who have already come up with your own variations on this beauty. The recipe below is my adaptation of the original plum version (I reduced sugar and increased salt). For the raspberry version, also shown, I eliminated the cinnamon and added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the batter after the eggs). I topped the cake with enough raspberries that there was only about 1/2-inch of cake between them.

Plum Torte (adapted from a recipe by Marian Burros from the NY Times)

  • 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar plus 1 to 2 tablespoon
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8-12 smallish purple Italian purple plums, halved and pitted (or 5-6 larger plums)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat over to 350°F. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time,  scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the dry ingredients, mix until just combined.

Spread batter into an ungreased (or lightly greased) 9-inch springform pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, skin side up, all over the batter, covering it. Sprinkle the top with lemon juice, then cinnamon, then the remaining sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into a center part of the cake comes out free of batter, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on rack for a few hours before serving.

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43 comments to “The Torte”

  1. I agree, good easy cake recipe. I use up fruit that’s not getting eaten, so I can always justify making it up. I never use the cinnamon and use 1/4 cup ground almonds and 3/4 cup flour. I’ll also add a bit of almond extract to bump up the almond flavor. It’s a winner and super easy.

  2. Aloha Tim! I purchased the New York Times Cook Book (Amanda Hesser) a few years ago. So many recipes to try out! I wonder if I could use mangoes from my garden instead of plums which are hard to find (good ones) here on Maui?

  3. This is a fabulous and foolproof cake. I found the recipe ages ago and have been making it for years. I used to have a plum tree and towards the end of summer would make lots of these cakes to freeze and then eat during the winter months. Great warm with a bit of crème fraîche, or vanilla ice cream if the plums are really tangy.

  4. Hi Kiyo- My fear with mango is that they are simply too sweet, and will release too much liquid when it cooks. But that being said, it might be worth a try–especially if you have mangoes to spare.

  5. Amelia also inspired me to make this cake a few days ago! I mean, if they ran the recipe for 12 years I had to see what it was all about. Everyone loved it, and I plan on blogging it this week. Such an easy cake to whip up when you have house guests. Next time I’ll try cutting back a bit on the sugar, too, and serving with whipped cream.

  6. Classic recipes like this one are the best! I make a similar cake in the fall with pears. Good stuff.

  7. I’ve made this twice in the last two weeks and it turned out great every time. It’s such a looker too.

  8. Such a delicious yet simple to make cake. I need to make it, especially with plums which are so in season now. It looks like it took far more effort t to prepare than it did!

  9. Truly one of the best cakes ever when there are stone fruits around. Plums are divine because they’re kind of tart which contrasts beautifully with the sweet cake. Had some leftover streusel once that I tossed on, but it’s not necessary. Waiting overnight to eat it is hard, but worth it as the plums seep into the cake. I’m going to use frozen peaches in the winter and maybe frozen cherries. It’s just terrific.

  10. I made it and it is sooooo gooooood and so easy. I was thinking that if I was ever on a cooking show (a situation I don’t ever want to be in) this is a cake I could remember how to make and would wow the judges. Can’t wait to try other fruits and berries!

  11. I am from the extreme south of the German Black Forest and grew up with this cake. We used to eat it as is with potato soup, lentils or any kind of full meal soup as a typical week day meal and also made it with apples and cherries. On Sundays it was served with a generous amount of whipped cream and was just as delicious !
    I have lived in Mexico City for the last 20 years and we have no cherries, purple plums or good apples and if we have them, they come from Chile and unfortunately have no flavor…:o(. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  12. This looks so simple and utterly delicious – the best kind of baked goods. I must pick up some plums to try this gem. It looks like a winner, and with all of your hype…I need to make it!

  13. I have some overripe pluots that would do very nicely in this!

  14. Yes!! I have been making this cake (and a bunch of yogurty variations) for years and years and am definitely going to continue, especially considering we have a plum tree in the backyard. Yay!

  15. I gotta try this! I have a lot of plums in the freezer and couldn’t figure out what to do with them. Thanks for posting the recipe!

  16. I’m going to make it…with Mariposa plums (Aug/Sept only on the Central Coast of California)…the best for jam, so I can only imagine how good it will be. Looks amazing!

  17. Looks delicious! I’m intrigued about an apple variation. But apples are so different than stone fruits. Would you recommend changing anything for drier fruits like apples? Would you cut the apples into a small dice, do you think?

    Thanks!
    Loren

  18. I love these classic, simple cake recipes. This is a very timely post, because the organic black plums continue to be just beautiful, and Italian prune plums should be appearing in the markets soon. Thank you for posting this.

  19. All I can say is that I “will make this cake”.

  20. I discovered this recipe on Orangette (I think?) years ago and now can’t wait for Italian prune plums to come into season every year!

    I substitute cardamom for the cinnamon and add a splash of vanilla too.

  21. Oh – this torte. I know. I started making it about 2 years ago after reading about it in the NY Times cookbook. How could one resist making one of the top requested recipes to the newspaper? And indeed, it is SO easy. I’ve made it 3-4 times, I suppose. One does have to wait for plums to be in season! The cake is a real winner.

  22. I’m going to give this a try with coconut oil in place of the butter (we are severely intolerant of dairy around here). I’ll let you know how it turns out!

  23. Reminds me of the Apple-Blackberry cake (always a hit) but even simpler. Can’t wait to make.

  24. Yup. So funny–Amelia’s post prompted me to make this, too! I made two for my birthday. It’s SO good. That Marian Burros.

  25. Hi Loren- Good question about the apples. I was going to try with slices of apple. Once I do, I will post an update.

  26. This is a marvellous cake! I tried it with rhubarb (left out the cinnamon),and it was delicious. Thanks for reminding me to make this :)

  27. This is such a delicious cake…..many requests! And easy to adapt for any season.

  28. Years ago I hired a pastry cook based on her bringing in one of these tortes as a sample of her wares. Thank you for reminding me of this recipe. I am going to make it today using some of the 30# of peaches I picked yesterday.

  29. Just took this tarte out of the oven 15 minutes ago- house smells great- it’s now 1/2 gone- only the two of us- fabulous! Thanks

  30. I think I’ve been making this cake since it was originally published and have used almost every fruit imaginable. It’s probably hard to screw it up.

  31. It’s in the oven, though I did use Italian Prune Plums so it won’t be so nice and ruby red. Hopefully the purple skins will neutralize the snotty green insides! Or maybe it will be one interesting looking dessert. I can’t wait. Thanks Tim!

  32. I’ve been seeing plums used everywhere recently, and I definitely need to try baking with some!

  33. I actually do cardamom and not cinnamon for this cake. or rather i do barely a pinch of cinnamon… i’m a sucker for cardamom these days and like it a little more than just cinnamon. i actually might make this cake today – or tomorrow, depending on when i pick up my head from book edits.

  34. No cinnamon in the panty -damn still have to fill that… I did ginger instead. I hate messing with original recipes – you can’t bitch about it if it’s fit for the floor… But it was fine. Cinnamon is on its way… Certainly by Thanksgiving anyway. It made for a yummy dinner – Thanks

  35. I’ve made this with grapes – a woefully underused baking fruit, imo. Grapes get all jammy and candy-like in the oven. So good. Try to find a more tart and less sweet variety. (And seedless, natch.)

  36. Delicious! Perfect way to use seasonal fruit. This for sure a go to dessert recipe for me!

  37. Aaaaah. Oh to be closer to the West coast and a seasonslly-laden apricot tree in my yard. Aaaaapricots are my favourite fruit to bake into a cake like this & let them get all jammy. I am *totally* trying grapes. Oh well, at least the plums are available. I see a cake for goûter in my near future:::

  38. Someone just gave me a bag of fresh figs, so I’ll try a fig variation. Don’t know about figs and cinnamon….I’m thinking orange zest and crushed fennel seed. I also like the idea of a bit of almond flour.

  39. Gorgeous cake :-) Thanks so much for posting it, Tim. I’ve made it twice since you posted it.
    My mother always used to melt the butter to make the cake more moist and what mother says is always best, isn’t it? But when I took the pan to melt the butter, there was still some coconut oil sitting in it, so I decided to swap the butter for coconut oil. Having started swapping, I swapped the sugar for palm sugar and reduced the amount a little and I then swapped the flour for half kamut flour and half ground hazelnuts. Because I needed lemon juice, I decided could as well add the grated rind to the cake batter. And last but not least, I was so engrossed in my swapping act, nearly everything was already in the bowl an no way to extract the sugar from it to whip it with the coconut oil first. So I put everything in the bowl and mixed it for a few minutes until it became a bit lighter and fluffier. It worked great. Easy, healthy and delicious.

  40. I can confirm that this is a very easy and quick cake. I made it in the break between two PBS programs I was watching last night — honest. It baked for 50 minutes while I watched the show. I used Italian plums from Seedling that I bought at Chicago’s Green City Market on Saturday. The cake tasted as good as it looked. I will definitely make it again and experiment with different fruits depending on the season. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  41. This is almost identical to the Cranberry Torte recipe you kindly shared form “Wintersweet” except it uses baking powder not baking soda, slightly less sugar and no extract. I absolutely LOVE the Cranberry Torte recipe and make it constantly. Can you tell me what the difference would be between baking powder and soda in this cake? Negligible? Also, if you have time – I posted a question in the Cranberry Torte thread asking about using frozen cranberries..it’s still good but they are a touch chewy. Should I defrost before adding? Thanks again for all the stories and recipes. My very favourite blog!

  42. oh, oh…and can I use frozen plum slices? Thawed or not? Thanks.

  43. Hi LouLou!Thanks! They are basically the same recipe, with small adjustments in flavor. My guess is that the Wintersweet lady had near the NY Times. They both call for baking powder. Baking soda would not work because there is no acid. As for the second question, I have never tried either with frozen fruit, so I have no idea. I would not have thought it mattered with cranberries, maybe you just had some chewy cranberries? I would not try frozen plums. A. They are supposed to plum halves. and B. stone fruit tends to release a lot of water from frozen which might not be ideal here. Hope that helps….

What do you think?