pear torte

Pear torte

20 December 2013

With Christmas so soon after Thanksgiving this year, I’m all for shortcuts. This pear torte, winter’s variation on Marian Burros’s justifiably famous plum torte, is just the ticket this holiday season.

A moist, tender cake topped with soft pears and a sparkle of sugar, it’s a winner dessert: easy but impressively pretty, buttery but not heavy. It’s also durable enough to bake ahead, giving us cooks the priceless gift of time.

In busy days it’s a relief to count on old standbys. The ingredients of this cake are so elementary, you can put it together with hardly a glance at the recipe. With peaches in summer, Italian plums in fall or succulent pears in winter, this recipe never disappoints.

Stick of butter, 3/4 cup sugar (plus pinch of salt if your butter is unsalted).

butter sugar

Two eggs.

butter sugar eggs

One cup of flour, one teaspoon of baking powder.

flour baking powder

Spread batter evenly in pan.

torte batter

Pear slices on top. Pretty is not my strong suit, but overlapping pear slices is simple enough even for me.

laying out pear slices

Sprinkle of sugar and nutmeg.

pear torte nutmeg

I love it when something looks harder than it really is. Mine looks kind of dorky still in its cake pan, but those of you with springform pans can bow modestly to the applause as you present your beautifully unmolded torte.

pear torte

Funny thing, but the absence of vanilla is what makes this so special. It’s the utter simplicity of buttery cake and soft, sweet fruit.

I think I like pear and nutmeg even better than the original plum and cinnamon. But maybe that’s the genius of this recipe: each season’s version seems better than the last.

pear torte slice

Holiday recipes

I realize that I don’t have typical holiday main dishes here, even though we do the ham-and-roast thing here in Ohio (I’m too fried during Christmas to document food). But I do have brunch, sides and sweets that may come in handy.



Side dishes

Best wishes for a magical, delicious holiday season!

Pear Torte
A variation on Marian Burros’s famous plum torte recipe – buttery perfection, lovely to look at and simple to make. 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)
  • 2 large or 3 medium pears, ripe but firm (Bosc or Anjou are good choices; Bartlett won’t hold shape when cooked)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar and sprinkle of nutmeg, for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a springform (8, 9 or 10 inches) or cake pan.
  2. Cream sugar and butter in a bowl. Add eggs and beat well. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and mix thoroughly.
  3. Peel pears and cut in half lengthwise. Cut half again and trim out core in each section. Slice thinly.
  4. Spoon the batter into prepared pan. Place pear slices, one overlapping the next, on top of the batter, forming circles from the outer edge of the pan toward the center. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and nutmeg.
  5. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool to lukewarm, and serve.

Makes 8 servings.


  • Bake a day ahead and store at room temperature. Reheat gently in a low oven if you like.
  • 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 pears, 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. Use a sprinkle of cinnamon instead of nutmeg if you prefer.
  • 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.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Michelle 20 December 2013 at 10:30 am

I am so totally making this for dessert tonight. My dad is driving here (SF Bay Area) from AZ in his neverending quest to escape the memories of my recently departed mother, who taught me everything about food. Cooking with my mom was like learning at the side of a french chef who commands you to watch, pay attention and then do the dishes, never even touching the food….LOL! Only my mom was a wisp of a Jewish Italian nonna who always loved everything I made even if it included coconut milk or ricotta which she always claimed she disliked;-) I miss her so much!!
Might use frozen blueberries or will do apples as I am out of pears right now…..perhaps a few toasted walnuts scattered across the top might add a nice crunch;-) thanks again for a simple, straightforward recipe using seasonal, simple, delicious ingredients!


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