Sunday, July 17, 2011

Marian Burros' New York Times Plum Torte (R3A2 Version)

(also Blueberry Torte, Strawberry Torte, Raspberry Torte,
Peach Torte, Apricot Torte, ...)

Leave out to soften and bring to room temperature:
       1/2 c. butter
                 (Marian says to use unsalted and then she adds
                 a pinch of salt later.  I use salted butter and
                 no pinch and it works fine.)
       2 eggs
(You can actually keep eggs and butter at room temperature all the time, unless your kitchen gets very hot. See Note on Keeping Butter and Eggs at Room Temperature.)
If the butter is cold, microwave it at mid-power for about 30 seconds (more or less, just keep an eye on it) to soften for easier creaming. If it melts completely, it's OK, too: instead of creaming it with the sugar, you just stir.

Preheat oven to 350 and choose your baking pan. Marian didn't say to do the next two things, but I always do them: (1) grease the baking pan with butter, and (2) put the pan on a cookie sheet to catch any overflows. (Those drips are a delicious bonus for anyone who is around when the torte is done and the drip pan has cooled off.)

In a medium-large bowl, cream
        that BUTTER with
        1 c. sugar
Sift in
        1 c. unbleached flour
If you use gluten-free flour, such as Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free, use 1-2T additional to make a stiffer dough. Also the torte bakes and browns faster. An 8" circular disposable cake pan takes ~40 min.
Stir in
        1 tsp. baking powder
        those EGGS
and mix until blended, but then STOP.  I begin mixing using the fork I used to cream the butter and sugar, then switch to a rubber spatula, keeping the fork handy to clean the spatula, and vice versa.  Note that the dough is more like a butter cookie than a cake, which of course is why the torte is so delicious.  But it is a dense dough. When I first made it I wondered if the New York Times had left out some liquid, say, milk.  They hadn't.  (Phil's Aunt Ruthie always made her Tortes with an electric mixer and they come out very light and airy, almost like a cake mix cake.  I prefer dense.)

"Pour the batter into [the] pan," says Marian.  Spoon is more like it. It doesn't pour, or anyway not if you don't overmix it.  I then spread the dough to the edges of the pan with the spatula.

Top artfully with
        12 Italian (prune size) plums, halved vertically and
             pitted, skin side UP (see below for OTHER FRUITS)
(In 2010 I found a version on the web that said skin DOWN. What ARE they thinking?  When the dough covers the fruit, which it does as it bakes, I like to see the little mounds, whether plums or berries.)

Marion weakly suggests the next three ingredients, and then doesn't even give measurements.  I think they are an absolute necessity and I use the amounts listed.  Sprinkle the top with
        Juice from 1/6 lemon -   about 1 Tb
        1 tsp each of sugar and cinnamon (or if you have a handy
                jar of 50-50 cinnamon and sugar, sprinkle it on:
                more than a light dusting but not a complete

Bake at 350.  Springform, per Marian, takes 1 hour; cake or pie tin, per me, takes 45-50 minutes.  Test with a toothpick. If it comes out dry and the torte color is good, I turn off the oven but leave the torte in for another 5 or even 10 minutes to avoid any internal mushiness. The dough rises to cover almost all the fruit, browning nicely.  This means that my instruction to top artfully mostly just insures that the fruit layer is even.

Marian says, and it's true, that this torte freezes and revives well if you put the frozen cake in a 300 degree oven "briefly." I think 10-15 minutes takes the chill off the middle. Prune plums are only sold in late August, hence the other fruit options below, as well as the fact that her recipe begins with a story about making 24 tortes one summer and storing them in a friend's freezer, only to have the friend's mother eat all but two when she babysat for two weeks.  They are truly irresistible.

What pan?  Well, Marian referred to a "9 inch spring form pan." I have no 9" spring forms, just a few 10" ones.   I often use a disposable pan, either 8" round layer pan or 9" pie tin.  I've also used 8" or 9" square pans.  With square you can cut into squares, with round you serve wedges.  With a 10" springform, the dough layer is thinner. That is more elegant, like something you'd buy in a European pastry shop. It also means I use more fruit so that the dough is well-covered.

Other Fruits:
        Berries:  a monolayer.  Blueberries or raspberries or both: 1/2 lb. or about 1.5 c.  Strawberries: about 1 1/2 pints or about 12 large ones, hulled, halved vertically and tossed with sugar (less than 1 tsp is enough) a couple of hours earlier if you think of it, or at least as the first step before creaming the butter and sugar, if you don't. Sugaring the strawberries softens them and removes any bitterness. I learned that from my sister-in-law Betty Ann when she was making a fruit salad.
        Stone fruit:  Apricots (about 12 oz, 6 small or 4-5 larger):  halved vertically and pitted if small, otherwise treat same as peaches or regular plums: sliced vertically so that the slices are 1/2" or less at the widest point. Alternating slices of plums with peaches or apricots or both looks pretty, too.
        Apples and Pears:  Apples don't do it for me in this recipe but my friend Mae says she has used apples and liked the result. I suppose pears would be good but have never tried them.
Revised 2015: 6/1, 3/29. Original post available on request.
Earlier versions on my computer: 11/29/98; 6/1/00; 8/26/07; 10/3/10 - rjm

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