October 1, 2018
This is about...
Grandma’s PLUM CAKE!
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        THERE’S THIS NEW YORK TIMES RECIPE, ORIGINALLY POSTED BY MARIAN BURROS, in September of 1983, that has continued to make the rounds in the newspaper for decades. It’s her recipe for a “Plum Torte.” She got it from her childhood friend, Lois Levine, and it ran in the newspaper every fall for years, until one year it just stopped. The readers freaked! So back it went into the NY Times cooking pages. It’s such a simple recipe and SURPRISINGLY, IT HAS BECOME THE MOST REQUESTED RECIPE IN NEW YORK TIMES HISTORY. (over 80,000 of them--that’s a lot of requests!)
        For many bakers, this recipe is pretty much a right of passage from summer into fall. But even though Burros’ friend gets the credit, MY GRANDMOTHER WAS MAKING THIS DECADES BEFORE IT MADE ITS DEBUT IN THE TIMES. I pretty much grew up on this “torte,” which is actually a cake. And when I left for college, the one thing I wanted to take with me more than anything was her “plum cake.”
        In Germany, this cake is called an obstkuchen which means fruit cake—or more to the point, a cake with fruit in it. I think the reason it’s so popular and the reason we had it so often was because it was SO EASY TO MAKE. It’s a simple, buttery batter that’s spread in the bottom of the pan, layered with some sliced fruit on top, sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar, and in my house, lightly drizzled with melted butter as a finishing touch. When it comes out of the oven, the cake has risen between the juicy fruit and creates a cakey bottom with crunchy edges and an almost custard-like fruit layer. NO BETTER COMFORT FOOD IN MY BOOK.
        My grandmother’s version was named by the fruit she was using that day— plum cake, apple cake, peach cake—you get the idea. And, it was always made in a ¼ or ½ sheet pan, evenly layering rows of juicy, sliced fruit on top of the batter.
        It’s pretty forgiving too. The size of the pan can be anything from an 9”square or round pan, springform or not, or a 9” x 13” rectangular one. Plus, it’s so versatile, you can switch up the flours, the fruit, the flavorings and spices for any that suit your fancy. It’s easily doubled or tripled too.
        THIS TIME AROUND, I MADE IT WITH ITALIAN PRUNE PLUMS IN A 9” SPRINGFORM PAN. But it does take a good hour or more to make. If you’re in a hurry, opt for the 9 x 13 pan (¼ sheet pan), because you’ll have a yummy cake to eat in about 30 minutes.
        If you’re not familiar with them, they’re smaller, more oblong than round, a little less juicy and more tart than standard red or purple plums. And, they sport a distinctively bluish-black hue. Only available in the late summer/early autumn, they are a sure sign that fall is upon us. CAN’T DECIDE IF I’M HAPPY ABOUT THAT.

LESSONS Learned:
1. Any fresh seasonal fruit can be used. Instead of the plums, try sliced apples, nectarines, peaches, blueberries or raspberries. Use about 24-30 slices of fruit cut about ½”-1” thick, or 4 cups berries total. Or, mix them up. Use wider slices on top of the 9” round pan—bake time about an hour or so-- and thinner slices for the 9 x 13---bakr time about 30 minutes.
2. Make two. The second one, which you’ll want when the thermometer dives, will freeze really well for up to 3 months. Make sure to wrap it tightly, label and date it. Defrost the cake overnight in the fridge or at room temp, and reheat in a 300 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.
3. Flours can easily be switched up. I like using 1/4 cup cornmeal and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour for a more Italian take with a little satisfying crunch in the cake.
4. Depending on the shape of the pan you choose, you can lay the fruit out in a pretty circular pattern , starting from the outside and moving in, or layer them in neat rows.

Grandma's PLUM CAKE

¾ cup sugar
½ cup, 1 stick, unsalted butter, softened
1 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 pitted Italian prune plums, halved and pitted, or 3-4 sweet red or purple plums pitted, cut into ½” to 1 inch slices
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, optional but delicious

Make the cake:
        Place the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease whatever pan you are using well with butter. If using a springform, you might want to wrap the bottom with foil as well.
        Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, about a minute. Fit a strainer over a medium size bowl, and sift the flour, baking powder, salt. Add the dry mixture and the eggs to the butter/sugar mixture and beat well.
        Spoon dollops of the batter into the chosen pan, 9” round or 9” x 13” rectangular pan and spread it evenly to cover the bottom. Place the fruit on top of the batter, prune plum halves skin side down. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar. Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon sugar all over the fruit. You may not need all of it. You also may opt to use less if the fruit is already very sweet. Evenly drizzle the melted butter over all.
        Bake until the cake is browned and puffed around the fruit and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. For a 9” round pan, it will take about 60-65 minutes. For a 9 x 13 about 30-35 minutes. Cool to just warm, and serve sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar, and if you like, whipped cream or ice cream. Can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 3 months.

Makes 8 servings.      YUM!
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