Italian Spiced Plum Cake

This is quite a lovely recipe a version, of which was originally printed in The NY Times with the title “Plum Torte” and is deserving of all its devoted followers. It’s very like a cake my Sicilian grandmother used to make with apples. I made it last week and again this week. I’m obsessed! Fortunately, the season for Stanley plums, commonly known as Italian prune plums is coming to an end.

The NY Times recipe has a few versions, published at varying times. Depending on the publication, the cinnamon varies between 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon. The sugar varies between 1cup and 3/4 cup. I think 3/4 cup of sugar is plenty sweet and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon is likewise enough. The recipe doesn’t call for any flavoring in the cake, just cinnamon sugar on top. I love a combination of cinnamon, star anise and vanilla for plums and often make plum preserves with these flavors. So I added a bit of vanilla to the batter and added some star anise to the cinnamon and sugar that’s sprinkled on top. I also changed the granulated sugar to sanding sugar for the top as I like a bigger crunch.

The original recipe also gives you a choice of baking in an 8″, 9″ or 9″ springform pan. I think 10″ would be too big because the resulting cake would be very flat and 8″ too small because there wouldn’t be enough of the crusty top or enough plums. 9″ is just right. The original recipe calls for unbleached AP flour but I prefer bleached for cakes. It gives a more tender crumb. Finally, the NYT recipe doesn’t call for any salt. I salt everything so I added a pinch.

Ingredients:

  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) superfine granulated white sugar
  • 114 grams, 4 oz unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 grams (1 cup)bleached AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12 italian plums (Stanley), halved and pitted (24 halves)
  • Pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  •  teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 3 tablespoons of sanding sugar or granulated for sprinkling on top.
  • 1/2 a small lemon (this yields roughly 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Wisk together the 3 tablespoons of sugar and the spices
  3. Line the bottom of a 9″ Springform pan with a round of parchment. If it’s nonstick, you needn’t grease the sides otherwise grease and flour the sides of the pan.
  4. Cream the sugar and butter until light and silky
  5. Add in eggs, one at a time, reading until light and fluffy
  6. Wisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Sift over top of batter and beat gently to combine.
  7. Spoon batter into your greased springform pan, leveling the top with an off set spatula.
  8. Place plum halves on top of the batter with the skin-side up.
  9. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top
  10. Sprinkle with the spiced sugar.Bake for about an hour, until the top is brown and a toothpick come out clean.  I have some more ideas for this cake and for me this is the most interesting part of cooking and baking: using a tried and true recipe as a jumping off point for more exploration. Let me know if you try them:
  • Put the spices and vanilla in the cake and sprinkle the top with lemon sugar ( rub grated lemon rind in the sugar) It will be prettier than using cinnamon in the sugar you sprinkle.
  • Use some almond extract in the batter instead of vanilla. Substitute almond flour for some of the AP flour. This would be good with plums, peaches and apricots. You’d have to play with this. Almond flour will give the cake less structure and is less absorbent than AP flour. It might result in a denser, more buttery cake.
  • Walnuts are also great with plums. Use some ground walnuts in the batter and substitute some walnut oil for the butter. It won’t be a 1-1 ratio. Butter has some water and oil does not. I would suggest using about 2 tablespoons of oil and cutting back the butter to 5 tablespoons. Same caveats as above with substituting almond flour.
  • This cake might work well with apricots as well although apricots are dryer than plums. I’d try poaching them in a soaking syrup with lemon rind and juice just until they soften a bit, then drain them and use the partially cooked apricots. I’d put ginger or almond oil or both in the batter.
  • Sour cherries might be good but you would probably need a bit more sugar on top. Also, cherries are very juicy and for opposite reasons than the apricot, one might need to roast them in the oven for about five minutes and drain them so as to eliminate some of the juice.

Happy exploring!

Julie