Best Plum Torte Recipe - How to Make Marian Burros' Purple Plum Cake


Purple Plum Torte From Marian Burros

November  5, 2020
21 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

We were visiting my parents in Maine, and my mother capped off dinner one night by bringing a family favorite, Italian prune plum torte, to the table. For the handful of you who may not already be familiar with Marian Burros' iconic cake, it is arguably the most famous recipe ever to grace the pages of the New York Times. By Amanda's count, it was re-printed a dozen times over just as many years, sometimes with modifications—including one that calls for a little less sugar than the original (we tend to prefer this version in my family). —Merrill Stubbs

Watch This Recipe
Purple Plum Torte From Marian Burros
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Serves 8
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 10 to 12 Italian prune plums, pitted and halved lengthwise
  • 1 pinch Turbinado sugar and ground cinnamon for sprinkling
In This Recipe
  1. Heat the oven to 350° F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer or handheld beaters, cream the sugar and butter until very light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and the eggs all at once, and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl once or twice.
  4. Spread the batter into an 8 or 9-inch spring form pan. Arrange the plum halves, skin side up, on top of the batter in concentric circles. Sprinkle the batter and fruit lightly with turbinado sugar and cinnamon (I use about 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, but adjust these to your taste).
  5. Bake the torte for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes, and then release the spring and let it finish cooling just on the base. Once it's cool, serve as soon as possible. Or, you can double-wrap the torte in foil, put it in a sealed plastic bag and freeze (for up to one year!). Note: to serve a torte that has been frozen, defrost it completely and then reheat it for 5 to 10 minutes in a 300-degree oven.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sharon Hanna
    Sharon Hanna
  • Cwbusch
  • Marques
  • Yayita
  • Alex Gabriel
    Alex Gabriel

    45 Reviews

    Klethin September 11, 2020
    My kids broke the knob off my oven just as the plums were becoming ripe. Argh! So I improvised and made this in my BBQ, in a buttered cast iron skillet, and I t came out great! I added a drizzle of almond extract To the batter and sprinkled the top with crumbled almond paste. Baked at around 350 with indirect heat for about 40 minutes. It had crusty edges and soft tender insides. I may actually make it this way again even once my oven is repaired.
    Sharon H. September 10, 2020
    Used less plums and added a Bartlett pear cut in eighths. It comes together so quickly!! I erred and didn't put the flour in with the eggs, but added by hand ;-) Thank you for sharing the recipe....
    Whipple August 24, 2020
    Go -To recipe when I'm lucky enough to find Italian prune plums.
    Used whole wheat pastry flour, plant butter and put down a layer of slivered almonds under my plums. Took almost a full hour in my 9' springform. Worth every minute.
    Steve February 7, 2020
    I have made this cake dozens of times, almost never with the plums. I have made it with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. With apricots and with peaches. I typically make it with 50% white sugar and 50% dark sugar. I typically use 40% white flour, 40% whole wheat flour and up to 20% almond meal. I've made it with the lemon zest on top and without the lemon zest on top. When I made it with plums, I did it skin side up and skin side down and it didn't matter. The batter rises, the fruit sinks and gets crushed and very jammy and none of these variations have ever failed. It is a supremely easy recipe to make. Be fearless in making your variations. There are no serious mistakes (except using strawberries-too much moisture). Enjoy every bite of it.
    Heatherwalkerlightner September 19, 2020
    I’ve done a combo of apricot (Or any fruit) and lemon slices. That was probably my most favorite variation. Like you said, one can’t go wrong with this as long as the fruit isn’t too wet.
    Steve September 19, 2020
    I had never heard of or thought of using citrus. Of course, that proves nothing. How did you prepare the lemon slices and how much did you use?
    Heatherwalkerlightner September 19, 2020
    No preparation. I just did thin slices, like you might for fish, and then cut into quarters. Put them, half in, half out of the batter. The Plum torte recipe I use from NYtimes, is the same, except it has the baker use 1tsp of lemon juice on the plums, at the end, then the sugar, then cinnamon. I think it really needs the lemon juice. So using them interspersed between the fruit seemed like it would be great. Once cooked they’re soft and add a bit of texture. It was a little less sweet and it gave it a brightness for summer that was just right.
    nika October 29, 2018
    I'm trying to make some tasty treats for my partner who has a newly restrictive diet which has taken away a lot of the treats he's used to having. Has anyone made this gluten free? Or butter & gluten free? I've been reading about replacements, but I'm curious if anyone here has successfully done so. Thanks in advance!
    Mirabu January 29, 2019
    I made this recipe GF dairy fee. It was wonderful! GF all purpose flour and Fleishmann's Original margarine (dairy free) - same amounts as in regular recipe. Sprinkle sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice on top...enjoy! Made it with blueberries as well.
    Cwbusch October 7, 2018
    Bon Appetit published a variation in their September 2018 issue and doubled the recipe, but dropped the sugar, and added an egg yolk,some lemon zest and fruit brandy. This base recipe has the ability to mutate! Love it.
    suzanne September 9, 2018
    Made this today exactly as written and it was good, but nothing to write home about or even make again. Super basic cake.
    Deborah D. September 5, 2020
    I’ve heard that it is best eating the following day.
    Allison L. August 18, 2018
    I just tried this recipe tonight and I am so glad that I found it! I can definitely see this one getting brought out for all kinds of occasions (and non-occasions!). I did add a couple of capfuls of vanilla extract and I didn't have any turbinado sugar, so I used regular granulated sugar which ended up baking into a delightful little crust over the top. I skimped a bit on the plums (a few of them managed to get eaten before there was time to make this recipe), next time I plan on adding a bit more fruit than it calls for, not less. I've put away a lot of fruit into the freezer this summer and I'm looking forward to trying this recipe with mangos, cherries, and peaches!
    Gretchen @. August 20, 2018
    Hi Allison,
    I froze a lot of cherries last year so I have been using them instead of plums. Here are my alterations using cherries: Thaw and drain the cherries (10-12 ounces), reserving the juice, about 3-4 tablespoons. Grate 1/2 tsp each, ginger root and lemon zest and add to butter when creaming. Add 1/4 tsp. cinnamon to dry ingredients. Add the juice from the cherries at the end of mixing process. The cherries tend to sink to the bottom during baking. I have made this cake at least 4 times since May. I have found that just about any fruit that can stand up to baking can be used with this cake. I have been making this cake since 2004 and it always draws compliments and requests for the recipe!
    I have used frozen plums, apricots and peaches too, as well as fresh.
    Lisa L. August 22, 2019
    You may already be doing this, but to prevent fruit from sinking in cakes, I like to toss them in a few tb flour (or with the dry ingredients) first before folding them into the batter.
    Steve September 10, 2020
    If you feel that the fruit is sinking too far down, toss the fruit with a tablespoon or two of the flour from the recipe before spreading the fruit on top. This works with any type of fruit, and indeed, with any recipe that calls for inclusion of fruit.
    Marques September 24, 2017
    Definitely a keeper!
    Yayita March 31, 2017
    I had heavenly modify this recipe, as I didn't have the specified Italian prune plums that were called for so I substituted it with regular plums. I also didn't have turbinado sugar so I used regular white sugar. I did not sift my flour but I did make sure to cream my butter for a solid 7mins (5mins using my standup mixer and 2min by hand as the paddles didn't get the small amount thoroughly mixed) as this usually dictates how fluffy your cake will come out.
    When it came to pouring the batter into a 9in springform, I was concerned that the batter wouldn't be enough to even cover the 9in springform so I decided to use a 9in tart pan. This appeared to be the just the right size as it's not very deep but as I started arranging the plum slices I knew it was too shallow as I could imagine the cake rising beyond the height of the tart pan. I ended up using only 4 cut up plums and that ended up covering most of the surface area of the batter (arranged these in concentric circles). As this was baked, the cake rose and went past the tart's rim but it did not spill over. The cake itself was very shallow given the amount of batter and the plums on top appear to weigh it down a bit. The ratio of plum to cake is about ~3:8 (0.40) which is perfect for me. Also the plums were pretty tart so adding the sugar on top of the batter and sliced plums helped balance the tartness and sweetness. Overall, I was pleased with the taste but surprised to see how shallow of a cake this ended up being (height was ~1in).
    Louisa B. August 20, 2016
    I made this on an 8" pan and it was great, but just barely enough batter. I want to make a bigger cake and was goig to double the batter and use a 10" inch pan. Any thoughts on how I should adjust the baking temp or time?
    Jeff P. September 17, 2016
    Louisa, if I had to guess, I would try dropping the oven temperature ever so slightly -- maybe 340°F instead of 350°F -- and extend the baking time by 20 minutes, checking a toothpick at the 50 minute point and every 5 to 10 minutes thereafter.

    If you do try it, would love to hear what you observe!
    Alex G. August 17, 2016
    I love this torte - it's not too sweet, it's moist, and quick to make. I blended the eggs in with the butter and sugar before adding the dry ingredients. I think it makes it easier to mix; just my preference. Delicious.
    jeanmarieok July 11, 2016
    I love this cake - it's really forgiving. I've made it at the beach with a fork and peaches, blueberries, raspberries (about 1 1/4 cups or so berries or chopped fruit). I butter the springform pan, then coat in cinnamon sugar, bottom and sides. I've never had a sticking problem. I've used plums, peaches, blueberries, etc. All delicious.
    beejay45 November 5, 2015
    Geeze, people! If you prefer the original recipe or a different adaptation, then use that one. This is the version that Merrill took the time to post. Either use it or not, but all this kvetching is nuts.
    sue G. February 3, 2019
    Amen to you. Well said
    MsJoanie October 2, 2015
    This IS a tasty recipe but I found the batter so strange, I almost abandoned making it. For anyone worried their batter is too thick, or there is not enough batter, have no fear, it will puff up and spread in the oven. Although my smaller eight inch cakes were still less than two inches tall.

    I also think Italian prune plums grown in Idaho must be a different breed. 10-12 of them was more than enough for two cakes. I actually used 15 plums and made three total cakes; one a double-batch in a 10 inch springform which turned out the best of the three, since it was a thicker cake. For that one, I actually chopped the plums smaller than in half, since I found them hard to cut in the tender cake. But I still placed them skin side up around the surface. I am curious if anyone has had success just mixing in chunks.

    Know also that it's difficult to remove the cake from the base of the springform, so I took to loosening it with a hard plastic spatula as soon as the cake was cool enough to handle. I might try parchment rounds in the future.
    Iris9 September 14, 2015
    Just made this and it's divine. I added a teaspoon of vanilla to the batter and lemon juice over the plums as per the original version. It's excellent. Next time I'm going to try it with different fruit and a wee bit less sugar.
    Anne T. September 7, 2015
    Marian Burros Adapted Plum Torte...and why the adapted and not the original...or Late Summer Plum Cake...which has the lesser amount of sugar?
    Cheryl August 31, 2015
    I made this cake the other day and about 10 minutes into the baking, I stopped in my tracks and realized I had DOUBLED the butter! I thought of all kinds of crazy ideas but in the end my calm husband suggested I let it bake. And, it turned out good....right on the edge of too rich, but good. We still have lots of plums and I'm going to try again using the correct amount.
    Eliana B. August 5, 2015
    I was wondering which you would recommend more: this cake or the Late Summer Plum Cake that you also tried? I am sure they are both delicious but having tested each, do you have a favorite? Thanks!
    re-arranging_jars April 26, 2015
    I've made this twice, once with late summer plums and just last night with early spring rhubarb. Excellent! Perfect with a little vanilla ice cream and you can make it ahead for a dinner party.