Marian Burros's Italian Plum Torte
There's something quite special about those foods that are only available for a short window of time each year. Knowing that their appearance is short-lived makes me appreciate their reappearance all the more. I loved eating these tiny plums by the handful when I was a kid, not yet aware of the season's brevity. They'd appear on the kitchen counter, we'd eat them until they disappeared, but not once did we question the timing. That's how I remember most of my younger summers. I rarely thought about how long anything would last; usually I didn't even know what day of the week it was. Summer felt like it stretched on forever, with not a single responsibility on the horizon. I walked to the local pond every day to swim, played hide and seek every evening with the other neighborhood kids, played cards with my sister on rainy days, and went on an annual summer camping trip with my family.
Around here (Massachusetts), Italian plums (or prune plums) first appear in late August, lasting only a few weeks. I love this very moist cake, though sadly its appearance signifies summer's end. This particular recipe has been around forever, but I found that the original was too sweet for me so I've tweaked it a bit (and supplanted some of the flour for cornmeal, thereby lending it some extra texture, replaced some of the butter with oil making it softer...). The New York Times claims that the Italian plums can be interchanged with other fruits, but I'm skeptical. There's something very special about the Italian plums: the perfect balance of tart and sweet. Believe me, I've tried this recipe with other fruits, but it's never quite the same. Anyways, as I mentioned earlier, limiting this delicious cake to late summer and early fall makes it that much more enjoyable. Fleeting, like the best parts of summer.
Marian Burros's Plum Torte
Adapted from a recipe found in an article by Margaux Laskey in the New York Times
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature - 2 ounces
1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or substitute your favorite oil) - 2 ounces
½ cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar - 4.4 ounces
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour - 2.7 ounces - (see note on accurately measuring flour here)
⅓ cup yellow cornmeal - 1.7 ounces
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
12-13 Italian or prune plums (these are the really tiny plums)... I squeeze in as many as will fit (~13)
a squeeze of lemon juice
1 rounded tablespoon granulated sugar
1 rounded teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 10 inch pan by buttering and lining with parchment paper. The original recipe calls for a springform pan, but I prefer a deep cake pan (as I'm not a fan of the springform); however, either will work.
Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.
Beat butter. Add ½ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar and continue beating while adding the grapeseed oil. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the dry ingredients and then the vanilla, beating only until combined. Pour into prepared pan. Halve the plums and remove the pits. Top the batter with the plum halves, forming concentric circles. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice. Combine 1+ tablespoons of sugar and 1+ teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the top.
Bake ~45-50 minutes. Cool completely. Run knife around edge. Flip onto a plate and then flip again (onto another plate) so that the plum side is facing up.