September 12, 2011

zwetschgentorte or plum torte

I wake up in the mornings wondering what season has ushered in the day, curious about what to wear and what to do. I hope for crisp fall days while at the same time wanting to hold on to what is left of those long summer nights. I stepped off the plane last week and immediately sensed that fall had arrived only to be overwhelmed by heat and the urge to jump in the lake this weekend. The weather is waffling between sunny, and I mean oppressively hot and sunny, and cloudy and cool with breezes that make you wish you spun your own wool so you could hoard it in the form of sweaters and scarves and nice tall socks.

Those crisp breezes have always signaled new beginnings, and so here I am again spending another September settling into something new. This is it. I live in Zürich. I will live here until whenever it is we decide we want to go home (mild panic followed by excitement).

I tend to think you can sense the new beginnings in the smell of fresh notebooks and sharpened pencils and in my particular case, in the smell of sugar plums immersed in buttery batter baking under the cover of a few teaspoons of cinnamon. After my recent blogging hiatus, which makes this post feel like the start of something new, I wanted to start things up again with something simple and seasonal, something that maybe you, eager to start something new this September too, might even try at home. This New York Times recipe by Marian Burros is a staple of fall baking, evidenced by its twelve appearances between 1983 and 2005. It was first published on September 21, 1983 (which also happened to be my first birthday - a September birthday has always added to the sense that things begin anew in the fall) and because readers wrote in suggesting that the recipe "has become the adult version of September's shiny new notebook for school," it was re-published eleven subsequent Septembers.

In case the waffling weather has gotten the better of your senses about what season it is you can always go to the market where the arrival of apples, pumpkins, squash and these little Italian Prune Plums will certainly help you see that fall has arrived. I'd never baked with these particular plums before, or with any plums for that matter, but this torte is worthy of those twelve New York Times appearances. It is delicious. I spoke in expletives after taking my first bit it was just that good. Zach agrees that this torte is a winner. The plums sink and melt into the buttery dough during making, ensuring a moist and flavorful cake.
The plums you are looking for are the little purple football-shaped ones. They are noted as Sugar Plums or Italian Prune Plums and they generally flood the markets between the end of August and the middle of October. In case the season happens to end early this year I recommend heading out asap to purchase some of these plums. You likely have all of the other ingredients you need so while you are out grab a springform pan, the cheesecake lover in you will be ecstatic, and get excited about making this amazing dessert.
Plum Torte : from Marian Burros for the New York Times it is the most frequently requested recipe in the Times archive and was the most frequently published recipe (no pressure for it too be sensational or anything...)

- 1 cup/120g all purpose four
- 1 teaspoon/5ml baking powder
- large pinch of salt
- 1 cup/200g sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
- 1 stick/8tablespoons/113g of unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 12 Italian Prune Plums, halved and pitted
- 2 teaspoons/10ml fresh lemon juice, depending on the tartness of the plums
- 1 teaspoon/5ml ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350ºF/179ºC.

Cream 1 cup of sugar with the butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light in color. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and then add them to the butter-sugar mixture. Follow with the two eggs.

Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9" springform pan. Cover the top of the batter with the plum halves, skin side up. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar and the lemon juice, adjusting to the tartness of the plums. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.

Bake the plum torte until the cake is golden and the plums are bubbling about 45-50 minutes. Cool on a wire wrack then unmold.

* cooks note: The original recipe called for 1 cup of sugar, which was later reduced to 3/4 cup. I chose to stick with the 1 cup, but feel free to try the 3/4 cup. When I looked for images of the torte it seemed that many bakers chose to place the plums skin side down. The torte is certainly prettier that way, but I can't imagine it's as moist and juicy as the original skin side up torte, which allows the bubbling prune juices to flow into the batter.
The torte capped off a sensational dinner last night. Zach loves our new grill so we made grilled chicken sandwiches topped with avocado, cheddar cheese and In n' Out Animal Style sauce complete with caramelized onions (recipe here). The expletives for the tart were merely only follow up to the sandwich expletives. Damn Good!
If it isn't already clear, then I better state it again, make this torte. It is incredible. It doesn't need ice cream to help it along, although of course ice cream never hurt, it's just simple delicious on it's own. It's deliciousness is enhanced by it's simplicity, simple ingredients and a simple process. Zach and I both put it at the top of all desserts I've made so far. Apparently it freezes really well so I might just go ahead and buy the markets out of plums and bake away until there's no more room in my freezer, which actually won't take that long considering my little European freezer is teeeny tiny.

In case you make the torte and fall in love with plums and want to try some other recipes, I came across these in my search..

- more of a crumble than a cake from Melissa Clark of the NYTimes.

- a gooey plum crostata from Melissa Clark of the NYTimes (I wonder if Melissa is trying to beat out the fame of the infamous plum torte?)

- Marian Burros plum crumble which she says is as good if not better than the torte. I don't think that's possible, but I better give it a test run.

- a plum tart from the Barefoot Contessa - tough for those of us living in Europe who don't have access to good Brown Sugar

Let me know how these turn out if you try them and don't be surprised if one of them pops up on housetohaus soon.

Phew! post complete. It was tough gearing up to post after such a long break. The pressure builds and the excuses mount, but hopefully this broke the ice and there won't be any long hiatuses ahead.


  1. here's another one for your list:
    don't be fooled by the unflattering photo. this tart is lovely!
    glad that you're now at home in Zürich!

  2. kristi, oh my goodness that one looks good. Have you made it? If so did you find wholemeal stoneground flour?

    I believe you are working again, but I'd love to see you and Helene for a cup of coffee soon.

  3. Welcome back to Switzerland. I love this time of year. Thanks for sharing the recipe; when I first moved to Zurich, my upstairs neighbor gave me a big hunk of this yummy cake - now I am going to try to make it myself.

  4. Talley, do you think I could respectably eat this for breakfast? Either way, it looks delicious. Can't wait to make it!

  5. Susan - I hope you're cake came out well! I just bought some plums so I can make another one...although a bunch of them just got highjacked for a crostata.

    Darcy - haha - well let's see, there's fruit and cinnamon and cake - so YUP I think it could definitely double as a breakfast! enjoy!

  6. Talley, I made this today and am eating it for.... breakfast! Yum! So delicious.

  7. I am on the reverse from you, a German transplanted to the United States, missing the european pace of life and most of all the food, Here in my neck of the woods you can barely get Italian plums (this year I saw none. But your Kuchen looks so yummy. I will definitely try to make one.