Marian Burros' Plum Torte
September 29, 2005
Doesn't that look glowing and warm and comforting and delicious? I thought so, too. And yet. I'd better tread carefully here, because apparently the recipe I made last night is the recipe to end all recipes. Reprinted every single year in the New York Times for 15 years running, or something like that. Let me tell you a bit about it.
Marian Burros, a longtime writer for the NY Times food section, first published the recipe for Plum Torte in 1981. Every year thereafter, because of reader demand, the food section would reprint it. A few years ago, the New York Times printed it one last time and exhorted readers to cut out and laminate the recipe: they would be printing it no longer. Marian Burros ended up immortalizing it in a few of her cookbooks, and it's available all over the internet, in case you weren't subscribing to the NY Times in those days. And last week, when Marian published an article about autumnal cooking, the Times decided to offer the recipe to accompany the online edition. So I felt I just had to make it. Nevermind the luscious asian-pear crisps asking longingly to be made from the L.A. Times, or the fact that an equally good-looking apple-phyllo dessert was in Marian's article. The Plum Torte was calling my name and so I answered.
I figured it would give me a chance to make one last dessert with plums before the beginning of fall. I'm going apple-picking in the Hudson River Valley this weekend, so there will be enough apple dishes coming in future weeks. I plucked twelve shiny Italian plums from the greenmarket earlier this week and last night got down to business. Very quick business, I might add. The batter is simple as can be - you simply cream butter and sugar, then sift in a small flurry of flour, salt and baking powder. This thick batter is poured (or rather, smeared, since it was pretty stiff) into a springform pan. The layer of batter seemed surprisingly thin to me.
I halved and pitted the plums, and arranged them in a circular pattern on the batter.
I stirred together cinnamon and sugar, which then got liberally sprinkled over the plums.
The pan went into the oven, where it was supposed to bake for 40 to 50 minutes. I set about making dinner for Barbara (a beet salad and spaghetti with pesto, which by the way, I should have mentioned yesterday, benefits greatly from the addition of a lump of butter added to the bowl of sauce and cheese. Lest my Italian forefathers and mothers turn over in their grave, I say, I read this in a book! An Italian book! So there. Go back to resting in peace.).
When I checked the torte after 50 minutes, it still looked pretty pale on top, and the skewer came out with lumps of raw batter still attached. So I closed the oven door, and we went out to the patio for dinner. I completely forgot about the cake (note to self: when eating outside, remember that smells from kitchen cannot migrate through closed doors). In the middle of a particularly interesting point that Barbara was making about something or other (I was paying attention, don't you worry), I smacked my head and ran back inside to the oven.
At this point, the cake had been baking for and hour and 15 minutes, at least. I yanked open the door and sighed with relief.
The cake was fine. We let it cool for a while, then cut in. Maybe it's because it was still warm and some cakes benefit from a day of being left alone. Maybe it's because I had such high expectations because of all the hype surrounding the recipe. Maybe it's because I grew up eating a different kind of plum torte with a yeasted base (that looks more like this) and has much more structure and character and lets the fruit shine through more. But (covers her head with protective hands) I didn't really like this. My roommate did! And Barbara did! And my coworkers (as usual - is there anything they won't eat?) did! But I didn't. It was too sweet, too flat, too flabby.
It wasn't bad. But I probably won't make it again. There, I said it. If anyone has had more success with this, will you tell me about it?