Plum Crum Snack Cake: A Piece of Cake #38

Yeah, I know that's not how you spell "crum."

There was a stretch of Septembers, from 1983 to 1989, when Marian Burros’ Plum Torte recipe was published annually in the New York Times. And when the editors thought they could stop printing it? There was an uproar from people like me, who absolutely love this recipe. Like thousands of NYT readers over the years, I’ve made the Burros plum torte over and over again. And for good reason! It's a pretty perfect recipe. 

“Bill,” you may be thinking, “if this classic recipe is so perfect, why mess with it?” Well, first of all, because I can't stop myself from messing around in the kitchen. But also, because there’s precedent—in 2016, NYT Cooking’s Margaux Laskey wrote a guide to adapting the famous plum torte recipe. If Margaux says it’s OK, then that’s enough for me. 

But really, my version came about after some overlapping plum/crumb eating scenarios this summer. I spent a couple of weekends this summer visiting Nantucket at the invitation of a dear friend of mine, Greg Rales. Many of you probably know Greg’s Red Gate Bakery in the East Village. One thing you may not know about Greg is that he is also an avid ice cream maker. And one particular weekend he made a delicious plum ice cream for us that was so creamy, but still so full of fruit. All of the late summer/early fall crammed into one pint of frozen dairy. The following evening, we visited Nantucket’s famous Juice Bar, and I ordered their coffee cake ice cream. It’s essentially a cinnamon-cake-flavored ice cream base with huge chunks of crumb topping, a la your favorite tri-state family bakery. So, here’s the combination of those two flavors, in one tidy riff on a beloved autumnal recipe. 

The base of this is a very close adaptation of Marian Burros’ recipe; the only thing I altered was the amount of plum. The original recipe calls for 24 halves of pitted plums. In her September 21, 1983 Food Notes column, Marian writes that this recipe “shows off the little purple plums that are the current best buy.” My current best buy plums must have been larger. Either way, I opted for an extreme amount of plum. I ended up cramming in 12 halves of decently sized Italian plums in mine and it was perfect. I feel like, depending on the size of plum used, you should just fit in as many as you comfortably can. If you can't get your hands on Italian plums, use whatever looks good in the plum selection at your grocery store. Fat slices of black plums, pluots, or dinosaurs will be delicious. 

My real addition to this recipe is the crumb topping. Now, the key to any crumb top, whether it be for a coffee cake or a pie, is the clumping. Squeeze big clumps of topping together and then gently break that mass into chunks on the surface of your cake. Larger clumps equal better crunch and overall crumb appearance. Let the finer crumbly parts fill in the gaps and let the bigger gems of flour, sugar, and fat shine. 

I’ve been known to test the limits of the “snack cake” form in this newsletter. But this is a purist’s snack cake. It’s not glamorous. But it will keep for a couple of days on the counter, is absolutely perfect with coffee, and will make you smile every time you cut a slice. The whipped cream is optional, but it’s a really nice option, isn’t it?

Plum Crum Snack Cake 

For the Cake

¾ cup granulated sugar 

½ cup unsalted butter, room temp

2 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder 

½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt 

12 halves of medium-sized Italian plums 

For the Crumb Topping 

1 cup dark brown sugar 

2 teaspoons cinnamon 

½ teaspoon cardamom 

½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt 

½ cup unsalted butter, melted 

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Make the Crumb Topping

  1. Mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. Add the melted butter and combine well. 

  2. Add the flour and mix well. 

Make the Cake

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. 

  2. Add the eggs and beat until combined. 

  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. 

  4. Add the flour mixture to the butter, mix on slow until well combined. 

  5. Scrape into a greased 9-inch springform pan, and press into an even layer. 

  6. Arrange the plums skin-side up on the batter.

  7. Squeeze the crumb topping into large chunks and break into good-sized crumbs. Evenly spread the crumb topping on top of the plums. 

  8. Bake at 350 for about 1 hour, until a pick comes mostly clean.

Quick Bites:

  • Our friends over at Dacha 46 are halfway to their Kickstarter goal, raising money to find a permanent home! If you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting one of their Eastern European delights, please do so, ASAP. But either way, please consider giving to their Kickstarter to ensure that they can continue to serve them in the future!

  • Grateful to TikTok user @jimmybigmuscles for posting his Nonna Rita’s cooking videos. If you see me on Instagram making biscotti al limone anytime soon, please know that she is the blueprint.

A Piece of Cake is written by Bill Clark and edited by Andrew Spena. Photography by Hunter Abrams. Logo design by Brett LaBauve.