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Prune Plum Torte

October 31, 2012

Memories are funny things. I close my eyes and walk down the Corridor of Memories in my mind. No order, just all piled there on either side of me. Cascading images, snippets of conversations, flashes of sound, smells, touch.

Hungarian prune plums. Immediately I am 5 years old, sitting in the balcony of The Young Israel of Pelham Parkway, a large shul (synagogue) in the Bronx, with my mother and sister. The time of year is Rosh Hashanah and I am standing and straining to hear Mrs. Mermelstein in the row in front of us, as she regales those around her with full descriptions of what she served at her holiday meal the night before. What did I know back then? I actually remember thinking that there was a recess during the prayer service when the women in the balcony shared recipes with each other. My eyes were big as I listened to all this. I wanted to be at Mrs. Mermelstein’s table. Her skin was smooth, her hair swept up behind her head, her eyes clear. She always wore a beautiful, luxurious stole. I looked over at my mother who whispered solemnly in my ear, “Hungarians are excellent cooks.”

To this day, whenever the opportunity arises, I hear myself say, “Hungarians are excellent cooks,” as if I am intoning one of the Seven Absolute Truths of the Universe.

Hungarian prune plums had a brief season in early fall when I grew up in New York. I suppose they still do. Deep purpley flesh, greenish interior. Small egg-shaped plums with a seam down one side. Sweet and slightly tart at the same time. My mom adores them.

Italian prune plums are almost the same in size, texture and taste. I couldn’t find any in the market this year and I really wanted to bake something with them. Maybe a tart with a shortbread-like crust. Maybe a torte that’s more cake-like. I chose the cakier route. Torte, it is.

For a lighter effect, it always helps to sift the flour.

Siftin’, siftin’, siftin’ the night awayyy-hey

I found Empress Prune Plums which are like Hungarian or Italian Prune Plums on steroids. (ve vont to PUMP YOU UP). They would do.

Ahhh, the old greasing the pan with the butter wrapper move.

Places! Empresses!

There was a lot more pushing and shoving to get my Empress Plums to cooperate laying skin up in the baking pan. They were acting like prima donnas and didn’t want to share the spotlight.

Mrs. Mermelstein, wherever you are, this is for you.


ever-so-slightly adapted from NY Times Food Writer, Marion Burros

also appearing, with the tiniest of tweaks, as Judith’s Plum Torte from In Erika’s Kitchen


3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. unbleached flour, sifted
1 t. baking powder
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 t. pure vanilla
10-12 pitted Italian prune plums, halved lengthwise OR 8 Empress prune plums, pitted, and cut in thirds
sugar and cinnamon for topping


Preheat oven to 350°.

Cream sugar and butter by hand or with mixer.

Add eggs, one at a time and beat well.  Add vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into butter-sugar-egg mixture.

Spoon batter into a greased 9 or 10″ spring form pan.

Place the cut plums, skin side up, on top of the batter, pushing down.  Sprinkle very lightly with sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Sprinkle with a scant teaspoon. of cinnamon, or to  taste.

Bake for 45 minutes, until top is golden and fruit juices are bubbling.

Remove onto rack and cool.  Serve either lukewarm. or fully cool and pack in foil to refrigerate.

To freeze, place foil-wrapped cake in plastic bag. Thaw in fridge the day before serving. If you’d like to serve it warm, briefly heat through in a 300° oven.

So so good…


From → Desserts, Fruit

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