Purple Plum Torte From Marian Burros

July  7, 2021
32 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Serves 8
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

What You'll Need
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Purple Plum Torte From Marian Burros
  • 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
  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.

  • Smaug
  • Rochelle Winston Davies
    Rochelle Winston Davies
  • Plum in the Icebox
    Plum in the Icebox
  • Sharon Hanna
    Sharon Hanna
  • Whipple

60 Reviews

JenniferJ September 24, 2023
Such an easy win! This takes no time to mix up. Small number of ingredients. One bowl. Delicious. I started checking for doneness at 40 minutes, which was important. I will make often. So easy to substitute a different fruit, add extract or spices, etc. Love it.
Smaug September 14, 2023
A few notes- the cake is basically a big cookie (with an extra egg). Prune plums are quite different than the plums we usually see in the US; they are sweeeter and are freestone, which is very helpful for baking purposes. I don't know what modern food writers have against sifters, but they're a much better way to combine dry ingredients than a whisk; not only do they combine them more evenly, they will separate out lumps (pro kitchens may have good enough storage conditions and fast enough turnover that they don't get lumps, but in home kitchens they're very common in baking soda and powder) as well as any foreign matter that may have found its way in (less of a problem than it used to be).
Smaug September 17, 2023
Also. a 9" springform is about 25% larger than an 8", enough to make a significant difference.
Ronnie September 13, 2023
My family has been making a variation of this recipe since the 1920's. My mother and I have always made it for Rosh Hashanah, which usually coincides with the short time that the plums are available. Our recipe is made in a pie plate with the plums skin side down and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. I freeze the cut plums, so I can make the cakes through the year when the plums aren't available.
Steve September 7, 2023
The New York Times published an article in their food section this week celebrating 40th anniversary of the publication of this recipe, possibly the most popular recipe they've ever published. The article itself is behind their paywall, so only subscribers can read it, but they did include a YouTube video explaining the recipe and some delightful options. Readers who worry about how strictly they have to adhere to the exact words of the recipe will find this very helpful.
Have a look. Have fun:
Rochelle W. September 7, 2023
A scrumptious cake that both my husband as well as myself loved. I didn’t have a springform pan so you an 8 x 8 pan square pan instead. The only other change I had to make was I had no Turbinado sugar on hand so had to sprinkle with a combination of Demarara sugar instead. This was my first time using Prune Plums and I love the flavor they bring to this cake.
Kathy R. August 14, 2022
We like less sweet desserts and, next time, I’ll reduce the sugar by 1/4 cup. Gotta say, so jammy, delicious and hard to stop eating. I had it with my AM cappuccino and it was fantastic.
Terri September 26, 2021
I've made this several times now. It's one of those recipes that is so little fuss, ingredients and work that it surprises how perfect and delicious the result turns out to be. I use a 9” regular cake pan with parchment on the bottom. It comes out of the pan perfectly and is pretty to look at on the platter. The plums become jammy and delicious.
Kris P. September 8, 2021
This is such a forgiving recipe that I’ve made dozens of times with all kinds of fruit. It’s always delicious. Today I’ll try figs and blueberries, just because.
Wkc September 5, 2021
Have made this many times and it’s always a hit. Yesterday I used 1/3 cup each white, whole wheat and almond flours. The almond flour lends to a beautifully golden finish and shorter baking time. The plums sank and made for a secret delight to unsuspecting diners. All good. Delicious. Now I am thinking a little cornmeal might add a crunchy bit of texture.
Plum I. August 28, 2021
Made with peaches today and some more spices to the cake batter (cardamom, cinnamon, ginger) and the whole entire thing was eaten within hours by my family of four-two of whom are only five and dont often even like fruit cake too much. Only change Id make is peeling the peaches the skin is a bit annoying as I sliced them. Gorgeous.
Bonnie Q. July 7, 2021
Wow, I'm not sure why it took me so long to try this delicious recipe. It was perfection! I've made it several more times with equally delicious results. I've used cherries, halved it, baked in a loaf pan, baked in a large muffin pan, and am looking forward to trying with some fresh Arkansas peaches. Thanks, Merrill, for passing on this lovely gem of a recipe by Marian Burros!
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!