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img_2994In the cooking world, there are recipes most everyone just knows, loves, and admires.  If you don’t make them, you’ve heard of them. Famed cooking guru and writer Marion Burros’ Plum Torte  (New York Times, 1983) is one such recipe. It may be one of the best and tastiest examples I know.

Below: Bad photo, but good tasting original Plum Torte I made last year demonstrating ovens as a Jenn-Air chef.

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I lived on the east coast in the eighties, albeit in Washington, and was a big fan of the Washington Post (Marion Burros was the food editor) and its food stories as I began my second decade of married cooking. But I also grabbed the New York Times whenever I could find one and I once or twice worked in New York for a few days at a time where I could indulge on  a daily basis. NYT Food, with Craig Claiborne at its helm for nearly 30 years, was IT for weekly food journalism in my (cook)book. Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines rounded out my periodical reading at the time. I bought books, but as a librarian had oddly very little money for them, so they were birthday or Christmas gifts. James Beards’ titles were favorites, but Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey were definitely on the list. There were far fewer cookbooks in those days and there are perhaps more than we need now. (Who said that?!)

Below: The organizing and re-shelving of the cookbooks after removing the wall between my study and the living room.  Note boxes yet unpacked. I know where of I speak.

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I truly can’t remember if I began baking Marion Burros quintessential fall dessert back in day or later on. The recipe is so simple a child could do it, but I see no notes to give me a clue.  I often wrote on recipes, in books, or on self-created menus from the time I began seriously cooking and baking. I now sometimes can’t read my writing as the paper may be so grease or food-splattered or just plain old worn. No matter, I’ve known the cake and it’s known me for a long time.

Plum torte bakers note this cake indicates a one-hour bake time in the original recipe and that it sometimes takes as little as 30 minutes.  Many people change the fruit from season to season and that may be the reason, in part, for the huge variation. The sort of oven you have could be another. (Check your oven temperature regularly with an inexpensive oven thermometer.)  I, myself, find 35-45 minutes about right and that’s true with today’s very-changed version–maybe it’s even its very own cake by now.  (I bake in a Blue Star gas oven.)  If you’d like to read the myriad comments about baking Marion’s beautiful and easy cake, click on the original recipe and look toward the bottom. There may be more comments on other printings of it; there have been many. As I said, this is famous food!

I hope you’ll make my cake or at least make Marion’s basic plum cake so that it knows you, too.

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If you bake with the seasons, this is very happy fall baking indeed, friends. Invite someone for coffee or wine and share.  Cool weather blessings.

below: torte before baking

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PEAR AND ALMOND TORTE with scotch whipped cream

6-8 servings  A loose riff on the old New York Times-Marion Burros Plum Cake.

Best served fresh–warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers, however, will eat admirably well with coffee for breakfast. Uses a 9-inch springform pan, though a 9-inch regular cake pan or a  3-quart round casserole dish will work, too.

  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing pan
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for topping
  • 2 eggs, room temperature (or place in a bowl with warm water for several minutes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup stoneground cornmeal
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 ripe, but firm Anjou or Bosc pears, cored and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces*
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

FOR SCOTCH WHIPPED CREAM:  Whip 1 tablespoon single malt Scotch (otherwise known as whisky without an “e”) and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar with 1 cup heavy cream until very soft peaks form.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place rack at center. Grease 9-inch springform or other pan with 1 tablespoon of the softened butter.

With electric mixer, beat the other 1/2 cup softened butter with just 3/4 cup granulated sugar for two minutes.  Scrape down bowl.  Beat in eggs and almond extract and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl again.

Add both flours and salt and mix dry ingredients lightly while on top of wet ingredients.  Beat wet and dry ingredients together until well-mixed. With a rubber spatula, scrape out the batter (rather stiff) into the prepared pan and smooth top evenly.

Add sliced pears on top of batter and squeeze a little orange juice over them.  In a small bowl or cup, mix together lightly the almonds, other 2 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon, and ginger.  Sprinkle almond mixture over pears and batter evenly.

If using a springform pan, place the pan on a baking sheet before baking as it may leak a little from bottom. Bake 35-45 minutes or until golden and toothpick inserted at center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool on rack 5 minutes. Unclip the side of the springform pan, if using, cool a little longer until warm or lukewarm and slice. Serve with Scotch Whipped Cream, if you like.

*I happened to have a dozen Bartlett pears that needed eating, and while they are best eaten out of hand, I’ve found I can bake with them if they’re nearly ripe and still firm.

What else could I use? Apples would be one obvious fall idea. If so, change the orange juice to lemon and the scotch to Calvados or brandy. You might think of exchanging ground nutmeg or just 1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves for the ginger.

Printable copy of recipe: Pear-and-almond-torte-

Bake a new fall dessert while your house is a mess from getting new floors:

Alyce