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There’s a reason this plum pie recipe is a classic

I had never tasted – let alone baked – The New York Times’ dazzling plum pie, despite its firmly entrenched role in the national baking consciousness.

Fortunately, my friend John has rectified this sad situation. He is one of the most gifted and inspiring bakers in my circle of friends, and last fall appeared on our porch with a wonderful rendition of the pie.

It was hauntingly fragrant and still lightly toasted from the oven. A good bite later, I was a convert. When I learned how easy it is to prepare, I became a fanatic.

The recipe’s secret weapon? Italian plums loaded with juice and slightly tart. Also known as prune plums, they are oblong, with dark purple skins, and they are smaller than their more familiar supermarket counterparts. Look for them to materialize between Labor Day and Halloween.

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In a cruel twist, Italian plums are also the weak point of the recipe. Unfortunately, it’s a fruit that doesn’t enjoy the universal availability of, say, Honeycrisp apples.

“It’s because there are fewer people growing them,” said Matthew Schlimme, senior supply chain manager for Co-op Partners Warehouse in St. Paul, which supplies 450 stores in seven US states. Midwest. “Many farms are getting rid of anything atypical, niche or unique, and replacing them with more desirable and profitable fruit.

But rare is not synonymous with untraceable. I recently encountered bags of Michigan-grown beauties at Lunds & Byerlys.

Schlimme advised looking for locally grown varieties at farmers’ markets and said Wedge Co-op and Linden Hills Co-op in Minneapolis will likely have Italian plums on hand.

“We’ve found some outside of Canada in the past, and some growers in Washington and California,” he said. “But it tends to be quite an expensive, nostalgic piece of fruit.”

Although the pie is irresistible at its best when using Italian plums, standard red plums and black plums—the juiciest, the best—are extremely successful substitutes. Pluots too.

Looking back

The recipe’s story is as compelling as its tender, buttery texture. It originated in 1962 with Lois Levine, who included it in “Elegant But Easy”, the cookbook she co-wrote with Marian Burros. In 1981 Burros joined the Times catering team and went on to have a long and influential career. Burros first shared the plum pie recipe with Times readers in 1983, and it was so popular that she reposted it nearly a dozen times.

In another example of the recipe’s enduring appeal, requests for “plum cake” flooded editor-in-chief Amanda Hesser as she compiled suggestions for The Essential New York Times Cookbook’s 2021 update. (Norton, $55).

“I thought a lot about why this torte struck such a chord with people,” Hesser wrote. “The answer, I think, is that it’s an almost perfect recipe. There are only eight ingredients, all but the plums, which you probably already have in your kitchen. There are only four steps, most of which are one-sentence.. You don’t need any special equipment. And the baked plums are sweet and tart, which makes the flavor more complex and memorable than a punchy sweet dessert .

In the Thinking Ahead section, this is a dessert made to measure for freezing. Once cooled, wrap the mold tightly in several layers of plastic wrap and then aluminum foil, put it in the freezer and forget about it for a few months. When snowy January or February arrives, the glories of plum season will be just a thaw away.

plum cake

For 8 people.

Note: This recipe is ideal with Italian plums, also called prunes. Small and oval with skins that take on a purple-black color, they appear in markets in September and October. If they are not available, other ripe plums will do; for larger plums, use 3 to 5. Adapted from “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser (WW Norton & Co., $55).

• 1 ch. plain flour

• 1 C. baking powder

• Pinch of salt

• 1 ch. plus 1 to 2 tbsp. cut sugar

• 1/2 tsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

• 2 eggs

• 8 to 12 purple Italian plums, halved, pitted and unpeeled (see note)

• 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1 C. ground cinnamon

directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1 cup sugar and the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl and mixing until fully incorporated. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Pour the batter evenly into an ungreased 8 or 9 inch springform pan. Arrange plum halves, skin side up, over batter in single layer; do not press the fruit into the dough. Sprinkle the plums with the lemon juice, then sprinkle with the cinnamon, then the remaining sugar, starting with 1 tbsp and adding up to 1 tbsp more, depending on the sweetness of the plums.

Bake until cake is golden brown, top slightly springy to the touch and plums are bubbling, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to wire rack to cool. Unmold and serve plain, or with whipped cream or ice cream.

How to make it yours

This is one of those recipes that is rock solid and remarkably flexible. Consider the following tips and tricks:

• Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract — or 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract — when incorporating the last egg.

• Replace 1/4 cup all-purpose flour with an equal amount of almond flour or finely ground yellow cornmeal.

• Garnish the top with sliced ​​almonds or a good sprinkle of vanilla sugar or Demerara sugar.

• Toss the sliced ​​plums with the lemon juice (and add 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest), cinnamon and remaining sugar. The extra step ensures even results, but the downside is that it messes up another bowl, and one of this recipe’s most admirable attributes is its simplicity.

• Reduce the amount of sugar from 1 cup to 3/4 cup, a New York Times test cooking suggestion from the late 1980s.

• Don’t have an electric mixer? A strong spoon, a strong forearm, and patience will yield similar results, making this a great hut dessert.

• When it comes to slicing plums, size matters. Given their small size, Italian plums can be cut in half, but larger plums work best when cut into four, six, or eight pieces.

• An 8-inch springform pan is ideal; it gives the pie an appealing height. A 9 inch pan also works, although it creates too thin a pie. Better to boost each ingredient by 50%. And if you’re using a 10-inch pan, it’s best to double the ingredients, although you won’t need twice as many plums. Remember: pans of different sizes require slight adjustments in cooking times.

• It works well with gluten-free flour. The result improves when up to a third of the gluten-free flour is replaced with finely ground yellow cornmeal or almond flour, or a combination of the two.

• For those who can resist the temptation, let the pie sit overnight, cover the dish with plastic wrap and store at room temperature. This extra time allows the juice from the plums to soak into the cake, accentuating the jammy texture of the fruit.

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