The Plummy September Torte Revisited - No. 246
It’s a morning person recipe
TODAY ISN’T A STORY of the classic Cinderella cake—the September plum torte—the most popular recipe ever published in The New York Times.
I wrote about this cake in my book, American Cake, and here on Substack last year. I said that some people mark their calendars with reminders to bake the Plum Torte when September rolls along and somehow they don’t bother to keep the recipe but still beg the New York Times to run the recipe once again. It’s been printed every year at the same time since the early 1980s.
Nope. Today is about looking at that recipe differently and switching it up with new fruit and a new attitude.
Plums were obviously the fruit of choice for something to be called a Plum Torte.
While the recipe dates back 40 years in newsprint, this is an older and more versatile cake! If you open a 1931 edition of The Joy of Cooking you’ll find something similar on many of the pages, and these recipes call for peaches, plums, apples, figs, whatever fruit you have.
Once baking powder came along in the first half of the 20th Century, home cooks were all about tossing out yeast and modernizing their mothers’ time-consuming cake recipes. And this little baking powder cake was born.
Even Lois Levine and her friend Marian Burros, yes THE Marian Burros, food writer extraordinaire of both the Washington Post and the NYT, who collaborated on a 1969 cookbook called Elegant but Easy, knew this was a staple of their mother’s generation. When they shared Lois' recipe for a Fruit Torte they had no idea that recipe would amass a cult following once Marian wrote about it for the NYT 40 years ago.
Its one-bowl batter is easy to adapt no matter the fruit. You just mix it up and spread it into a springform pan, and then arrange halves of peeled (or not!) and pitted (definitely!) fruit on top.
The closer you space the fruit together, the more cobbler-ish and custardy in texture. The less fruit and the wider distance between the fruit, the more the batter rises up and browns and takes on the appearance of cake.
Last month, I wanted to bake this cake with peaches and take it with us to visit friends in North Carolina, but alas, no local peaches.
And yet at Trader Joe’s there were flats of gorgeous nectarines. I bought them for a salad, only needed a few, and the rest were ripening on my counter and growing more fragrant by the minute.
While peaches are persnickety and tend to be mealy late in the season, these nectarines begged to be in this cake and gave me no trouble. Our friends loved it and I thought to myself, the possibilities have only begun!