Kitchn Love Letters

The Timeless Cake I Bake Every Single Summer

updated Sep 2, 2020
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Credit: Sheela Prakash

I remember it vividly. Nine years ago I was flipping through my then-new copy of The Essential New York Times Cookbook on a sunny, early September day when I came across Marian Burros’ plum torte. Its backstory immediately drew me in: The recipe, it said, was published every September from 1983 until 1989. When they stopped running it, angry letters flooded in demanding they continue to annually reprint it. For so many devoted readers, seeing the recipe in the newspaper each September and baking the cake was an end-of-summer tradition.

That afternoon, I made my way to the farmers market by my tiny New York City apartment and picked up a box of purple plums. By that night, after I’d baked the cake and polished off two generous slices, I was hooked. Nine years later, I find myself refusing to let summer go until I’ve made this cake at least once. Here’s why.

Marian Burros’ Timeless Plum Torte Deserves to Be Everyone’s Summer Tradition

This cake, developed by New York Times food columnist Marion Burros, is a lesson in simplicity, and proof that there’s no need to mess with a good thing. Halved purple Italian prune plums are nestled atop a lightly sweetened batter, sprinkled with a bit of sugar and lemon juice, dusted with ground cinnamon, and baked until the batter rises and causes the fruit to lazily slump into it. The plums stay intact, with wrinkled skins, and their flesh becomes practically jammy. One bite of this cake and you’re gifted with a buttery, tender crumb that’s balanced by sweet-tart stone fruit.

I firmly believe that the true measure of a cake’s worth is how it fairs the next morning for breakfast. This one passes with flying colors. In fact, many times, I bake it with the sole intent to enjoy morning slices dolloped with plain yogurt, accompanied by a mug of brisk tea, all week long. It stays moist for days, and almost takes on a custard-like quality as the juices from the plums continue to soak into the cake.

What’s more is that it freezes exceptionally well. Bake an extra cake, wrap it up tightly, and place it in your freezer. Months later, your future self will graciously welcome this taste of late summer.

Credit: Alp Aksoy | Shutterstock

If You Make This Plum Torte, a Few Tips

Before you head into the kitchen to bake this cake, keep these tips in mind.

  1. Be aware that there are slightly different versions of this cake recipe out there. As this recipe was reprinted so many times, there are slight variations out there. The one I use calls for sprinkling the cake with lemon juice before baking, while others don’t. The amount of sugar in the batter also ranges from 3/4 cup to 1 cup. This recipe is so foolproof, it’s not a problem, but it’s worth noting. I personally love the brightness the lemon juice adds and I find the lower range of sugar to be plenty sweet, especially if my plums are ripe, but tinker according to your own taste.
  2. Use the correct type of plums. I was actually unfamiliar with the type of plums called for in this recipe before heading to the farmers market to seek them out. You’re after purple Italian prune plums, which are egg-shaped and have a thick, deep purple-blue skin and firm yellow flesh. They’re in season right now through mid-September, hence why this cake is so perfect right now.
  3. Have fun making this cake your own. If you can get your hands on prune plums, I implore you to make this cake with them as written, but also know just how adaptable this recipe is. In fact, Burros published a piece in the Times a few years ago that shared the ways so many plum torte devotees have fiddled with it over the years. Swap in other fruit as the seasons change, try different flours, and play with spices and extracts, if you’d like.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.