Some recipes refuse to die. Perhaps because of their ease or simplicity, they maintain their status among our favorites. Such is the case of the much adored Plum Torte (a.k.a. Fruit Torte), one of the most popular recipes in the history of the New York Times.
Back in 1983, Marian Burros, food editor for the newspaper ran the recipe without fanfare. It took off like a lit rocket. In response to demand, the Times reprinted the recipe each year around plum harvest—that would be September.
But after 7 years, they decided enough was enough. In 1989 the recipe was printed in larger than usual type with a broken-line border. Readers were told to cut it out, laminate it, and stick it on the refrigerator door, because it would not be printed again.
People were outraged. “I look for the plum torte each year, as I look for the Declaration of Independence on the back page of the Fourth of July edition,” one woman wrote. Two sent poems bemoaning the recipe’s fate. “Summer is leaving, fall is coming. That’s what your annual recipe is all about. Don’t be grumpy about it,” another declared.
No Plums Required!
One of the good features of the Plum Torte was that it didn’t require plums. You could substitute: berries, peaches, pears, apples—most any fruit, fresh, canned, or frozen. This past weekend, I went with fresh pears. It was very good and as simple to make as Burros said, but my pears were a little firm. It would have been better with a juicier fruit.
The next time I see Italian purple plums—canned or fresh—I intend to try the original version. Without them I was missing what one writer called: “the deep pockets of jammy plum puddles,” that add moisture and a near custard-like quality. That’s what I’ll be going for on my next torte.
Here are five ways to adapt the torte. The final 1989 version reduced the 1 cup sugar originally called for to 3/4 cup. The difference is noted in the recipe.
The Original 1983 New York Times Plum Torte
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar (later versions reduces to 3/4 cup sugar)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 12 small, purple Italian plums, halved and pitted
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- Ground cinnamon and sugar
Heat oven to 350°F. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl. Add dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
Spoon batter into an ungreased 9-inch spring form pan (but if you’re worried, you can always lightly coat it first with butter or a nonstick spray) and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, skin side up, all over the batter, covering it. Sprinkle the top with a bit of lemon juice, then cinnamon and sugar.
Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out free of batter (some plum juice allowed), about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on rack.
Refrigerate or freeze, if desired. Or serve with whipped cream or ice cream. To defrost, reheat briefly at 300 degrees.