Perfect Plum Breakfast or Lunch or Dinner Cake

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Perfect Plum Cake

Perfect Plum Cake (photo courtesy of Rachel Weissman)


I enjoy but do not love baking cakes.  I do not love it like I love making soups and interesting salads.  First of all, baking is more about chemistry — there is a formula for how much flour absorbs how much liquid, the ways in which different flours and sugars react, etc., etc., etc. Just so much precision.  Most baking that I do is old school stuff – recipes I know well – like rugelach, mandelbread, or brown butter chocolate chip cookies.

BUT hold your horses.   Starting a couple of weeks ago I started spotting loads of Italian plum-laden trees and Italian plums that had fallen from said trees.  And, from past experience, I know Italian plums will continue to fall from their trees for at least another month. So I have been collecting these beautiful, purple, oblong delicacies. And first I made some plum jam. Jars and jars of it.  And then I remembered an old recipe from an ancient issue of The New York Times for a plum torte that I love.  I recalled it was easy to make.  It turns out various food bloggers have written about it. And suddenly, I yearned for the no-so-sweet cake base that envelopes the soft, gooey plums.

Back in my kitchen, I knew that I had the ingredients on hand for this baking project.  Of course I made some changes from the original recipe… I decreased the amount of sugar, subbed some flour with fine cornmeal to give the cake more texture and a nutty flavor, added grated lemon rind and lemon juice, eliminated sifting the flower, subbed salted butter, used turbinado sugar (again for texture), lowered the amount of cinnamon and sugar topping, and baked it in a regular cake pan instead of a springform since my springform pan was in the garage and I was too lazy to fetch it. You know, just a few minor tweaks.

So far I have made five of these cakes in two days – two  for my daughter’s family, and three for the two adults who live in this house who love this and ate an entire cake each day.  Thank goodness I have genes that allow me to eat whatever I want!  Oh, and the cake freezes well too.  But I store mine in the fridge. For easy access.

Not much left!

Not much left!

There are three ways we eat this cake:

  1. After it is baked and still a tad bit warmish, I slice some and top it with full fat Greek yogurt that I whisk a bit – adding a bit of sifted powdered sugar isn’t a bad thing since the cake isn’t sweet to begin with.
  2. The next morning, the texture of this cake is much denser and “wet” because the plums continue to shed their juices into the cake part.  I’d call it more of a plum pudding cake.  The cake is gooey and oh-so-good slightly warmed up with coffee or milk for breakfast.
  3. My husband and kids love what we have named “SOP” which in our household means anything bready or cakey (think cinnamon rolls or sponge cake or this) put into a saucer and surrounded by a moat of milk.  Soggy bread.  Incidentally, I never got into the SOP mode but the rest of my family certainly loves this.

And now, ladies and gentlemen I present:  

Perfect Plum Breakfast or Lunch or Dinner Cake!

Makes one cake to serve 8-10 slices, depending on how big you like your pieces



  •   ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  •   1 stick salted butter, room temperature
  •    3/4  cup unbleached flour
  •    1/4 cup fine cornmeal
  •   1 teaspoon baking powder
  •   2 eggs – room temperature
  •   12 Italian purple plums, sliced in half lengthwise and remove pits (24 halves)
  •   1 Tbsp Turbinado sugar
  •   ½ tsp cinnamon
  •   1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  •   1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the middle of the oven.   Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 8, 9 or 10-inch round cake pan (spring form if available).

Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl for five minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, mix another minute.

Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and add half at a time to the batter until combined.  The batter is very thick and pasty.

Spoon the batter into the pan. The batter is thick and must be spread with a spatula to even it out.  Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter. I do this starting with one half in the center of the pan, then make another small circle of seven and put 16 around the perimeter.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Mix sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon together and sprinkle on top of the cake, and finally sprinkle lemon juice on top of the plums.  

Bake approximately 40-45 minutes until the top browns and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a baking rack until room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate or freeze if desired. Or cool to lukewarm and serve plain or with whipped yogurt or cream.


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4 Responses to Perfect Plum Breakfast or Lunch or Dinner Cake

  1. Lisa Buchwalter says:

    I am running out to find plums to make this. My tree in Magnolia, growing up, was groaning with them. I’ve been making Marion Burros’ recipe for 20 years or so, but this looks like a good improvement! Love the addition of cornmeal.

  2. Malka Maizel (Malla Appelbaum on FB) says:

    I’m Shelly’s good friend from Seattle… The cake looks delicious! Can I reduce the amount of butter or substitute it with oil? Have you tried doing it? Somehow, a whole stick of butter makes me feel uncomfortable, even though I’m sure it tastes rich and yummy… Thanks!

    • Marilyn says:

      Hi Malka, think of it this way: a stick of butter for an entire cake is less than a Tbsp per serving. This give it the flavor, really. Oil would make it too soggy, and possibly you could use coconut oil for a third of the butter but that would change the flavor entirely. I never worry about butter, ever. I worry about sugar 100 times more!

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