No, I’m not talking Darwin’s Theory stuff here but rather plum torte evolution; yet, evolution nonetheless. A recipe. A quite famous (and DEMANDED) recipe! Not mine but one published by Marian Burros in The New York Times, circa 1983.
“It”, as will it be referred to from here (the plum torte recipe) started out as an idea (I speculate) and turned into an essential, a must have recipe!
“It”, became beloved and popular, for it’s spectacularnous (not technically a word, I know, but I do like to make up words, or Stacey-isms as Tom would call it) and yearned for as a nod to the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall.
“It”, was coveted and found to be genius! Which, genius it was really, and still is (as all genius things are, which makes them, well, genius).
But…times move onward and forward. As did “The New York Times”, who published this recipe for plum torte from Marian Burros every year beginning in 1983 and trying to end in 1989 when they decided to (gasp…) quit publishing “It”. They dared to quit publishing said recipe for plum torte, telling readers that they best cut it out, laminate it and hang it on their fridge because if they lost it, they were on their own. Ha!
I had a hard copy of the recipe folded and tucked into one of my journals for years. It had stains and crumples and batter caked onto it’s face.
I have lost it, and found it, and lost it again. But then, I never laminated it, nor put it on my fridge.
Now, I Google to find it each year. How’s that for evolution? Google that! What would we do without the internet?!
If you are a person who reads about food, loves to think about and cook food, types in searches on Google about food, come plum season, you too, my friend, are sure to have read about the recipe here, or perhaps here. No?!!!!
This torte is really a buttery (plum) cake. It is as simple in its’ ingredients as it is simple in its’ steps for making. The plums transform from their raw, unassuming state into a puddle of inky jam pillowed by the buttery batter. Mingled with cinnamon and sugar, they become fast friends at any dinner/breakfast or lunch party.
This year, as we were visiting my in-laws, at their Washington “cabin” in Hoodsport, sporting a bag of very ripe Italian plums from the farm down the road (our fave Hunter Farms), among other edibles, and I thought again about this (in)famous plum torte.
When we departed, I left my Mother-in-law, Lois, with the bag of plums, which were still taking up space in the fridge. I also sent a link to the story, with recipe, for the famous plum torte. On the way home (a 2 1/2 hour drive), I looked up the story again, to read for myself (having been absent on it for a few years). This time, I also read an updated article from the Eating Well section of The New York Times published September 4, 1991. It talks of others trying to make it healthier, but failing. Not failing so much, as for it just not being the same.
In my young(er) years, I gave no thought to healthy eating. More butter, meat, and sweets — bring it on! Carbohydrate was not even part of my vocabulary, let alone something I felt should be cut out. Whole grains were for hippies and tree huggers; I was completely content with my Wonder Bread, Ritz crackers and Nabisco Nilla Wafers. Oh you know what I’m talking’ about.
Today, food production has become different as accessibility to new, and awareness of, better ingredients become more prevalent. Thankfully, I have long ago, ditched Wonder Bread for artisan breads; sometimes whole grain, sometimes not. I am not a stickler about eating only the healthiest things, but especially when I bake things, I am more mindful of the ingredients that I put into them. I almost exclusively use whole wheat pastry flour. Yes, it is slightly different, but it too produces a lovely cake.
I could go on…but I won’t.
At least for not too long. I promise!
In the Eating Well article, ideas on change were thrown here and there. Whole wheat. Less butter. Gaaasp…margarine instead. Egg whites, less yolk. Bananas! No, seriously, bananas?! Granted, I’ve talked about using avocado instead of butter before (much to Tom’s chagrin), but even that would not do here.
How can we do this better? Perhaps we can and perhaps we can’t? But we can do it healthier. Of this I am sure!
I have done it, in-fact. Yes, I have! As I am sure, so have half of you. The original recipe was genius. It allowed many of us to produce a dessert so mind-blowingly good with such little effort that I would speculate, in the months of September and October, at least 20-30% of the Italian plums grown in the United States, still go into the original recipe, or some version there-of.
This healthier version might not be the same. I am sure it tastes different. It does, however, taste damn good! Good to be eating fresh fruit good; even if the fruit has been cooked. Butter is there, which makes it better and true to the roots. Less butter. More roots (from the grass from which the cows ate). The sugar is unrefined and from coconuts. Less sugar, more (plum) flavor, sweet!
I am still a big fan of the Original. I will never claim this is better. But it is better for you and it tastes just as good (to me). The texture is more crumbly, nuttier and more dense. It has you thinking you are in Italy, sitting street-side, sipping wine in a lovely cafe after sketching some bridge, street or building in your tattered book. Or writing endlessly about food in your journal.
Plum Torte (Adapted from Marian Burros version; updated for today’s healthier, modern lifestyle)
Okay Suzanne (AKA, Pug in the Kitchen), this one’s for you. A healthy dessert we can all get behind, but only for the months of August and September, and perhaps part of October (because that is when the plums are available). Enjoy for breakfast or dessert; even a mid-day snack or coffee break. So many ways to enjoy this. So little time. Delightfully ripe plums available now in Farmer’s Markets and grocery stores (most) everywhere (at least in the United States). Make this torte (cake) now and you will be making it forever more. It will be a go-to thing, I’m sure!
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (all purpose if you stick to the original)
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup unrefined coconut sugar (obviously cane sugar works too, but then itwill not have that “modern healthy lifestyle” vibe nor will it have the depth of nuttiness; unrefined white sugar will be more like the original but then, use 1 cup).
1 stick (1/2 cup) grass fed, unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (grass-fed cows produce healthier butter); you can use regular butter however.
20 ripe, Italian plums, cut in half, pits removed and discarded. The original recipe calls for 24 but in the pan I use, I can’t squeeze them in. This seems like a lot, but go with it because the results speak for themself.
a little lemon juice
1 *TB cinnamon + a little sugar (to sprinkle over)
* the recipe published in the NYT had a mis-print calling for 1 TB cinnamon when in fact, it should have been 1 tsp. As someone who doesn’t often measure cinnamon anyway, I would naturally have put in closer to 1 TB. Do what feels right to you.
I started, this year, by screwing up the first step. Alas, it turned out nonetheless! I accidentally put the sugar in with the flour, salt and baking powder. It is suppose to be creamed into the butter.
What I did to undo? I took a handful of the flour mixture and added that to the butter, whipped it to creamy, then added in the rest of the flour mixture, followed by the eggs.
What you should actually do to prep:
In a smaller bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a mixer.
Beat the flour mix into the butter mix.
Transfer batter to a buttered and floured spring-form pan (10″ to 11″ diameter). If you don’t have one, use a regular cake pan (as I did; to remove, I just tipped over like a cake and invert).
Bake, in a pre-heated, 350-degree oven, for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes away clean.
Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche or a slice of creamy cheese.
Buddy: Sugar plum fairies dance in my head… Ginger: Did someone say cheese? I like cheese! I like solid ground too.
Buddy: Why did you wake me? I want some plum cake. Ginger: You are weird to like plums, mangos are better. Buddy: Am I dreaming? I feel like we should be floating.
Off we go!