Late Summer Plum Cake

August  1, 2010
2 Ratings
Author Notes

I developed this recipe for my book, Farmers' Market Desserts. But because I tend to write long recipes, including all of the detail the reader might need, space ran short and this one fell victim to the editorial axe. A recent windfall of plums from a friend’s tree reminded me it was time to make this cake.

I originally developed the recipe using the small, dense-fleshed prune plums that come toward the end of summer. This time, my fruit bowl was filled with juicy Flavor Rosa and Yummy Rosa varieties, some still firm, others soft. With these larger plums, I needed only five or six of them, and because they were juicier, the cake took a bit longer to bake (and turned out seductively moist).

I have been on a lemon verbena kick ever since putting the plant in my herb garden. If you don’t have any, substitute a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh lemon balm or lemon thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest. - JSCooks —JSCooks

Test Kitchen Notes

Plums don't need much, just a pillowy batter to encase them, to catch their juices and a little sweetness to joust with their tartness. The batter for JSCooks's cake is scented with sour cream, vanilla and lemon. She uses lemon verbena leaves; we went for the substitute, lemon zest, and the cake did not suffer for it. Do go the extra mile and make whipped cream or buy some creme fraiche for serving. - A&M —The Editors

  • Serves 8
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 medium-size fresh lemon verbena leaves or 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 12 small to medium, firm-ripe prune plums, halved lengthwise and pitted
  • Lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third. Butter a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl. Set aside. Stack the lemon verbena leaves (if using), roll up tightly lengthwise, and cut them crosswise into fine ribbons. You will want 2 to 3 packed teaspoons.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a handheld mixer), beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light, about 5 minutes. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, vanilla, and reserved lemon verbena (or lemon zest) until well combined. On low speed, add the flour mixture just until combined. (The batter will be thick.)
  4. Spread half of the batter evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and top with 12 of the plum halves, cut side down. Dollop and spread the remaining batter over the plums. Arrange the remaining 12 plum halves, cut side up, over the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon brown sugar over the plums.
  5. Bake until the cake is golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted near the center tests clean (assuming you haven’t hit a plum), 50 to 55 minutes, rotating the pan front to back a little past halfway through baking. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
  6. Run a thin knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert a flat plate over the pan. Using oven mitts if needed, grasp the plate and pan tightly together on both sides and invert the plate and pan to release the cake onto the plate. Lift off the pan and peel off the parchment. Invert the cake again onto a serving plate.
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream, if desired.
Contest Entries

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sabine Gagnon
    Sabine Gagnon
  • Atelier Allison
    Atelier Allison
  • Jo B
    Jo B
  • Brain Health Kitchen
    Brain Health Kitchen
  • Franca

120 Reviews

Sabine G. September 17, 2018
THIS.CAKE. So good. So simple. My husband said it was one of the best things I have ever baked...and I bake a lot!
Emily S. August 3, 2017
This was FANTASTIC! Thank you! I made with the lemon zest and added half a teaspoon of almond extract in addition to the vanilla (I highly recommend this addition). Superb.
Author Comment
JSCooks August 3, 2017
I'm so glad you enjoyed it! If you ever have the chance to make it with lemon verbena I know you will be delighted. It's easy to grow and gives the cake (and many other things) a wonderful flavor. Enjoy!
Tad September 10, 2015
This cake, which I am enjoying as I write this, is delicious. Best cake I ever produced out of a recipe. Thank you for sharing. I too used a larger spring form (10.5") and followed the recipe exactly. I guess my pie is a little thinner due to the larger form, but everything came out perfect.
Bethany O. August 23, 2015
OMG. I'm eating this still a little warm out of the oven right now and it is phenomenal. I used pluots, lemon zest and added a pinch of cardamom and cinnamon. It's not too sweet and the cake came out just perfect. Thanks for the fabulous recipe.
Author Comment
JSCooks August 23, 2015
Thanks for letting me know. I'm delighted! And a happy coincidence as I just picked up prune plums at the farmers' market today with the intention of making this in the next day or two. Those pinches of spice sound lovely. Do try it with lemon verbena if you get the chance. Thanks again and enjoy!
whmcdevitt November 23, 2014
yes, it should work just fine. let them defrost and drain to remove the excess liquid.
pat November 23, 2014
Our plum trees had so much fruit this year that I pitted and froze some. Do you think frozen would work in this? I wanted to do it for Thanksgiving so would hate to do it w/o a test cake first but there just isn't time.
Author Comment
JSCooks November 23, 2014
Hi Pat. I'd be a bit hesitant about doing that for a holiday. When you freeze fruit it breaks down to some degree. While you could thaw and drain them, I'm afraid they would be too soft and mushy in the cake. Personally, I'd save that experiment for a casual evening when you won't feel too badly if it doesn't work out and go with something tried and true for Thanksgiving. But then, if you're not concerned and there are other desserts, you might feel differently. Happy holiday!
Luiz January 19, 2014
Atelier A. September 17, 2013
I made this yesterday "as written" except I did use a 10 inch springform. It worked perfectly. It is sheer Plum Cake Perfection! Thank you for sharing this fab recipe.
Author Comment
JSCooks September 17, 2013
Oh, thank you so much for your comment Atelier Allison! It makes me happy every time I hear someone has used the recipe and enjoyed the cake. Also makes me want to run to the kitchen and make one myself!
Jo B. July 29, 2013
Really scrumptious! I made modifications--10-in. springform, so I multiplied ingredients by 1.2-ish (which doesn't work well when it comes to eggs), used apricots instead of plums, didn't have sour cream so used full-fat yoghurt (not the same!) and cut back on the brown sugar on top--just used a teaspoon, as we like things on the tart side. It took fully 1 hour and 40 minutes to bake, as that larger pan and, I think, too much liquid caused by using three eggs instead of 2.5 eggs, but it was really, really delicious! What is it about apricots and plums that makes them so transformed when cooked? I think I'll turn the apricots skin side up next time, and there will be a next time--with apricots and, in late summer, with plums. Brava/o! Here's a pic:
Author Comment
JSCooks July 29, 2013
Hi Jo B -- that sounds great with apricots. I'm afraid I'll have to wait for next year to try that. Besides the factors you mentioned the yogurt likely had considerably more moisture than sour cream which would contribute to the longer baking time. I would use a well-drained Greek yogurt if you want to make that substitution. I think it would be fine to bake the recipe as I shared it in a 10-inch springform. Just watch carefully and reduce the baking time slightly. Thanks again for trying it and reporting back!
whmcdevitt June 28, 2013
i think peaches would work just fine if they aren't too ripe. cooking softens them so
hopefully they're firm!.......good luck!
nike June 28, 2013
oh thank you for the quick response, because i was going to make it now ha!!! let you know how it turned out ..
Author Comment
JSCooks June 28, 2013
I don't think they need to be too firm -- look for ripe-firm peaches that aren't super juicy.
nike July 22, 2013
sorry for the late response, it worked out great with the peaches!
Author Comment
JSCooks July 23, 2013
delighted to hear that -- thanks for reporting back!
nike June 28, 2013
hi i couldnt find the prune plums , can i substitute with peaches or would that ruin the spirit of this lovely cake ? tx
Author Comment
JSCooks June 28, 2013
I don't think it would ruin it at all! Let us know how it works out for you if you try it, keeping in mind that peaches can be super juicy.
starface80 June 18, 2013
i made this last night - delicious and just moist enough! i cut back on the sugar to about 1/2 C as well and found it was plenty sweet - as did the other 4 diners. i could see using this batter with all kinds of other delicious summer fruit.
Author Comment
JSCooks June 28, 2013
I agree it's amenable to many different types of fruit. I am all in favor of cutting down the sugar for those who prefer that -- I aim for making recipes with the least amount of sweetener possible. It helps the flavors to shine through!
niharika June 10, 2013
has anyone made this eggless..? if yes, can you pls help with the substitutions? I would love to try this, but i dont eat eggs!
drbabs June 10, 2013
No, but I did some research for you. According to Shirley Corriher in Bakewise, eggs perform several functions in a cake-- the whites are leavening and drying agents, and the yolks emulsify and provide a creamy texture. In addition, they supply protein to set and hold the cake. Without them, you have to optimize the flour in the cake's ability to form gluten and set. She recommends that you use a high protein flour (she suggests King Arthur's unbleached flour, or you could use bread flour), and you have to stir the water in before the fat so that gluten can form. She has an eggless recipe that includes 1 teaspoon of vinegar so that the batter stays acidic. Without the drying effect of the egg whites, the cake will be very moist.

I also found you this article on substitutions, so you can choose the one that works best for you:

Good luck! This is a really delicious cake-- I hope you're able to modify it.
Author Comment
JSCooks June 10, 2013
niharika: thanks for your comment, and drbabs: thanks for piping in with this great information! I have an eggless cupcake recipe in my Farmers' Market Desserts cookbook that has that bit of vinegar. It's amazing how that works! I know a lot of people use Ener-G Egg Replacer successfully, or the mixture of ground flax seed and water mentioned in the article drbabs referenced. niharika -- let us know if you try one of these and how it works out. I am tickled pink that this cake is still getting so much attention. Plums are just coming out and will be around through late summer to early fall, so there's plenty of time to experiment!
whmcdevitt October 16, 2012
I've never had a chance to freeze it. it gets eaten so fast. i think it would do ok as long as you wrap it well and don't freeze it for to long. the fruit would get funky I believe!
whmcdevitt October 16, 2012
I've never had a chance to freeze it. it gets eaten so fast. i think it would do ok as long as you wrap it well and don't freeze it for to long. the fruit would get funky I believe!
Brain H. October 17, 2012
Thank you whmcdevitt. I'll give it a try!
Brain H. October 16, 2012
I came upon this recipe when faced with a case of rapidly ripening Italian prune plums. It is a winner. I substituted whole fat plain yogurt and increased it to 1 cup (because I live at high altitude and more moisture is needed), and added 1/4 cup almond meal. Has anyone successfully frozen this cake? I still have about 10 # plums left!!
Franca October 10, 2012
I made this with italian black plums from my dad's tree. My son couldn't get enough of it. Deliciously moist.
Author Comment
JSCooks October 10, 2012
Thanks so much for letting me know, Franca! I bet it was fabulous with those black plums.
brooklyncook September 16, 2012
I made this cake for the first time this summer -- a quart of farmer's market plums and the desire to not let them go to waste prompted a cruise through Food
52 -- and I have to tell you, this was amazing! I'm tempted to experiment a bit for different flavors jus for the fun of it but wanted to thank you for a fabulous cake!
Author Comment
JSCooks September 16, 2012
Oh, thank you so much, brooklyncook -- you made my day!
Jane E. September 2, 2012
My, that looks good and I shall make one tomorrow. Some years back Martha Stewart featured a plum upside down cake with black plums and red raspberries. It was delicious, but I like the layers of plums in this one.

Gosh, I sure like good food.
Summer C. September 2, 2012
This sounds incredible..I used to make a plum Pound cake using two jars of junior plums which i can no longer find..Anyone with a sugestion would be much aprieciated !!!