Some years ago I visited friends in Salzburg, Austria. After a strenuous day of travel and sightseeing, we arrived at their home late that afternoon. As I headed to my room, our hostess said, “Come down in about an hour and we’ll have tea.” What a refreshing idea.
What I remember most about the tea was that our hostess had quickly baked this incredibly delicious plum torte. I’d never had such a thing, but obviously it was quick and easy. I thought I’d make it someday, but I never did.
Then while reading the New York Times food section one day, I spied a photo that looked just like the dessert of my memories. Not just a Plum Torte, but 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.
No More Recipe
But after 7 years, the paper 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.”
September is Plum Season
This past weekend, as I headed out of town on my way to the farm, I made my usual stop at Kirkwood Farmers’ Market. When I saw they had several varieties of plums, I said, “That’s it! I’m going to make this Salzburg torte with fresh plums like I should have years ago.” I couldn’t recall how many plums it took, so I bought a carton. (The recipe calls for 12 plums cut in half.)
No Plums Required!
The beauty of this torte is that it doesn’t require plums to be delicious. You can substitute berries, peaches, pears, apples—most any fruit, fresh, canned, or frozen. That makes it an especially handy recipe to have in your kitchen arsenal.
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, as is the reduction of the cooking time to 45-50 minutes.
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.