Drupes for dessert

A classic—and simple—recipe for stone-fruit season

Plum torte

Plum torte

Photo by Jason Cassidy

One of the cruelest ironies of living in the North Valley during the summer is that the bitter season of unrelenting heat coincides with maybe the region’s sweetest crop: stone fruits. Biting into a ripe nectarine—with its intoxicating scent and sweet/tart flesh—and letting its juices run down your chin can, for a minute or two at least, make you forget about living through the hell of two straight weeks of 100-plus temps.

With our current bounty of stone fruits, or “drupes”—aka the fruits of the prunus genus, such as nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums, pluots, etc.—also comes the opportunity for making one the most elegantly simple, foolproof and most popular desserts around: Marian Burros’ plum torte.

The New York Times food writer originally published the recipe in the paper in 1983, and the torte—which is actually more of a fruity pound cake—was so popular that the paper reprinted it for several years to coincide with Italian prune plum season in the early fall. Eventually, the paper said “enough is enough,” and printed it for the last time in 1989 with a note encouraging readers to cut it out and laminate it. To this day it stands as the newspaper’s most requested recipe, and the Times now has a dedicated permalink to it online (note: limited access for non-subscribers).

My local market vendor of choice for stone fruits on both Saturday morning and Thursday night is the busy booth for Dhillon Farm (out of Olivehurst, near Marysville). During peak season the farm has piles of beautiful plums, apricots, nectarines and several varieties of pluots and peaches—all for $3 per pound. I decided to make two different cakes—one plum, and one pluot—and picked up some super-plump black amber plums and two kinds of pluots, the firm and tart-but-sweet candy stripe variety, and the Dapple Dandys with their purple-and-green-speckled skin and sweet, lush, bright-red flesh.

The original Times recipe calls for 12 plums halved, but that number is for the tiny Italian prune variety, and given the monster summer plums and pluots we have available in Chico, I found that quartering six of the fruits gave me plenty for one cake plus some left over for snacking while it baked. It also suggests you use anything from an 8-inch to 10-inch pan, but after my tests, I strongly suggest baking in the smaller one. The cakey parts of the thicker torte are more substantial and provide a better balance with the wet fruit. Both fruits worked beautifully with the recipe, yielding a similar pound-cake-meets-cobbler result for either a summer evening dessert or a decadent breakfast.

Stone fruit torte

(adapted from Marion Burros’ plum torte)


1 cup white sugar (or, for less sweet, 3/4 cup; plus a little extra for topping)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup unbleached flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

6 tennis-ball-size plums or pluots (or an equal amount of any other stone fruit—peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, etc.)

Juice of one lemon for topping

Cinnamon for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat 8-inch pan (springform, or cake, or pan of any shape of comparable size) with pan spray.

Cut the fruit into quarters and set aside.

In a mixer or bowl, cream the sugar and butter. Measure flour, then sift into the bowl. Add baking powder, salt and eggs and beat until batter is well-blended. Spread batter in pan. Add fruit, skin side up to the top of the batter, leaving a little space between each piece. Dab each piece of fruit with a little lemon juice, and then sprinkle each with white sugar and cinnamon.

Bake for 40-50 minutes—until a toothpick inserted into a cake section toward the center comes out clean. Cool to warm before serving.