First published in 1981, Marian Burros’s plum torte reigned for years as the most requested recipe ever from the New York Times archive. Silly that I’m only discovering it now. Have you guys been making this for years? If not, jump on my late-to-the-party bandwagon. This is one of those timeless recipes: easy, gorgeous, versatile – a perfectly moist and buttery cake that complements any fruit in season. I already have it memorized.
I love fruit desserts the way my husband loves chocolate ones. I’m helpless to resist anything that combines fruit with butter, sugar and flour. This fruit torte joins crisp, cobbler and shortcake in my all-star lineup of easy and versatile fruit desserts.
Poor unheralded Lois Levine, she brought this fruit torte recipe to Elegant but Easy, the book she published with Marian Burros in 1960. Burros brought the recipe to the New York Times in 1981, and forever after it became billed as Marian Burros’s famed plum torte recipe, requested so frequently the paper published it almost yearly until 2005. The authors included the classic recipe again in their updated New Elegant but Easy Cookbook in 2008.
The original recipe calls for Italian plums, smaller, more oval, drier and less tart than regular plums. In dried form, they are prunes, but at their best fresh they are firm and honey-sweet. Their season is past now, but Marian and Lois had an apple-cranberry version for wintertime, and I think a pear version with a dusting of nutmeg would be a lovely finish to Thanksgiving dinner. The torte freezes well, so you could make it now and cross dessert off your turkey day list.
When I was a kid, Italian plums from local orchards were the consolation prize when summer fruit season ended. But the dark purple fruit has become hard to find now that orchards have become industrial parks. Feeling hopeful this fall, I bought a large box at Costco, but I was disappointed to find them bland and mushy. After banishing the rejected fruit to my refrigerator, I decided they might gain redemption cooked. Which brings me to this famous recipe.
This torte has fame-worthy appeal – delectable, soft-crumbed, buttery. But its impressively short and basic ingredient list – butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, fruit of your choice – makes it the recipe you never want to forget.
Start with butter and sugar, as usual.
Creaming by hand gets a lot easier with the help of an egg.
Flour and baking powder (plus a pinch of salt if your butter is unsalted). It’s tempting to add vanilla. But I’ve tried it, and the vanilla detracts from the buttery taste. So I like the recipe as written.
I love the one-bowl preparation. I give a brief stir to blend baking powder into the flour before mixing the dry ingredients in.
If I were a real baker, I would own a springform pan. But I have a hang-up about not wanting to store more things.
Decorating is not my forte. But even I can do this.
A light dusting of sugar to finish it off. The recipe also calls for cinnamon, but I used lemon zest since I had a lemon handy.
The cake rises around the fruit as it bakes.
Can you see how soft and moist this is?
Great with afternoon tea. Or, if you are my mom, for breakfast.
I took pictures of an apple version too. Three apples, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
Not quite as pretty as the plum. But it’s just as lovely inside.
Marian Burros’s Fruit Torte
This famous cake recipe – simple, buttery perfection – was originally included in Marian Burros and Lois Levine’s Elegant but Easy Cookbook in 1960. By popular request, it was published annually in the New York Times from 1981 until its official retirement in 2005.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup unbleached flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)
- 24 halves pitted Italian prune plums
- 1-2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon, to taste, for topping
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a springform (8, 9 or 10 inches) or cake pan.
- Cream sugar and butter in a bowl. Add eggs and beat well. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and mix thoroughly.
- Spoon the batter into prepared pan. Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter, forming circles from the outer edge of the pan toward the center. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, or to taste.
- Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool to lukewarm, and serve.
Makes 8 servings.
- To freeze, double-wrap the torte in foil, place in a plastic bag, and seal. Defrost and serve at room temperature, or warm in 300 degree F oven before serving.
- Marian and Lois’s apple-cranberry version: in place of plums, use three medium apples, peeled, cored, sliced into 1/2 inch slices (tossed with lemon juice if you like) and 1/3 cup dried cranberries, soaked in hot water (some to sprinkle on top and rest added to batter). Arrange apple slices, overlapping slightly, forming circles from the outer edge of the pan toward the center. Mix 2-3 tablespoons of sugar with 1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon; sprinkle on top of apples.
- Try peaches, apricots or berries in the summer. Or pears in the fall. Use a sprinkle of nutmeg instead of cinnamon for a subtler taste and lighter look.
- You can also add vanilla or almond extract. But use sparingly, as the extracts tend to detract from the buttery taste of the cake.
Here’s the link to a printable version.