Plum Cake

This cake! Every year, I make it at least once or twice during the summer and then I scold myself for not making it all year long, with whatever fruit is in season. In fact, I’m not sure why I haven’t even bothered to try it with other summer fruit — raspberries or apricots, for example, would probably be delicious. But as it stands, I make Marian Burros’ original recipe with plums and very little variation (a little less sugar and a little bit of vanilla extract), and it’s always perfect.

That said, the idea of baking in the summer has always struck me as strange. I know it’s the time of pies and cobblers and crisps and whatnot, but for me (perhaps the only person in the world who actually doesn’t like summer) having to spend any time in the kitchen with an appliance other than the refrigerator or the blender in the “on” position feels like torture.

A few years ago, I got really into making ice cream when someone gave me an unwanted ice cream maker. But as soon as summer rolled around, the churning stopped. There was no way I was going to be standing over a hot stove, cooking a custard or reducing fruit, when it was 85 degrees in my kitchen in the evening.

Now that I live in Madrid and it’s regularly in the high 90s every day of summer, my cooking routine is pretty simple: ensalada. Lots and lots of green or fruit salads. And gazpacho, which I honestly think has saved me from malnutrition during my first expat summer. (I’m planning a gazpacho post soon, before all the late-summer tomatoes are gone!) So to turn on an oven at this time of year voluntarily — and keep it on for the full hour that this cake requires — well, the cake must be pretty damn good.

And it is! With an ingredient list of things I’m certain you already have on hand, this plum cake is so simple to make. But when you pull it from the oven, the colors are so rich and the aromas so complex that you will feel much prouder of the work you’ve done than you probably should.

Plums are the star here, so be sure to use excellent ones. Look for plums that are ripe, but not overly so or else you’ll end up with a runny (though still tasty) mess. The plums I used in this cake were still pretty firm, so the cake as a whole was not terribly sweet. A version I made earlier this summer (with a colorful mix of red, purple and green plums) was incredibly sweet. You never know!

Mixing all the ingredients together takes just a few minutes, and then you get to enjoy the wonderful way your house smells while it’s baking. I’m always amazed at how deliciously not out of place cinnamon smells in summer, since it’s a spice I associate with fall and winter. Again, why do I never bake this cake at other times of the year, especially in seasons where baking is something I actually want to do? That’s it — I’m baking an apple and walnut version this fall. Enough is enough.

Plum Cake

Adapted slightly from Marian Burros’ original recipe


  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
  • 5-7 (depending on size) not-too-firm plums, halved and pitted
  • The juice of half a lemon, plus sugar and cinnamon (for sprinkling over the top)


1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Using a handheld or a stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter in a bowl.

3) Add the vanilla, eggs, salt, baking powder and flour and thoroughly combine. Note: the batter will be thick.

4) Using a spatula, spread batter evenly over the surface of an 8- to 10-inch springform pan. Arrange the plum halves, skin-side up, around the surface of the pan. Don’t worry about crowding. Squeeze the lemon juice evenly over the top of the cake and then sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of sugar (depending on how sweet the plums are) and as much cinnamon as you want.

5) Bake for an hour, until the top is a deep golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and allow the cake to cool completely. Store cake, covered, in the refrigerator for a few days, though you’ll probably finish it in two.

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