Grandma Margot's Plum Torte
I ate curious foods around my grandparents’ dinner table, though they never struck me as unusual. When my family visited my grandparents, we’d gather around for an array of German products I never saw anywhere else: liverwurst, weisswurst, gooseberry fool, little pickles, dense, grainy bread, Westphalian ham. My grandmother hated the kitchen, but my grandfather loved food. It was around their table that my identity as “feinschmecker” was born.
Although she wasn’t much of a cook, my grandmother baked, and she passed down her love of sweets to me. Every visit brought the promise of cookies, cobbler, or my hands-down favorite plum torte. In the world of pastry there are showstoppers and sleeper hits—the showstoppers being the things all gussied up with butter cream and ganache, the multi-layered creations that take hours to assemble, the caramel coated cream-puffs, and almost anything with a long French name. In this pastry world of piped filigree and gold-leaf, my grandmother’s plum torte is the quietest of sleepers: a simple dough, pressed (not even rolled) into the bottom of a spring form pan, topped with prune-plums, sprinkled with some sugar, and baked until the dough is puffy and golden and the garnet colored plum juices bubble.
In my opinion, the torte is as perfect as it is simple. The dough is sweet and barely salty. It is slightly sandy and just dry enough to support the plums that top it, glistening. The plums hit your mouth with the sticky softness of cooked fruit, their tangy acidity balancing the burnt flavor of caramelized sugar. Though the torte tastes just right fresh and fragrant, still warm from the oven, I like it best for breakfast the next morning when the plum juices have had a chance to sink into the crust, making it soft and staining it purple.
This plum tart, more than any other food I ate at my grandparents’ house, is a true family recipe. My grandma made it regularly, so does my mom, and, among my friends, I’m famous for bringing to dinner parties and potlucks. It is one of the foods that speaks the loudest of home, of family, and also of the food culture of a faraway mother country.
1/4 cup sugar plus 1 1/2 tablespoons
4 tablespoons butter, thoroughly softened to room temperature.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoons (heaping) baking powder.
generous pinch of salt
about 20 ripe ping-pong ball sized Italian prune plums (usually available at late summer and autumn farmers' markets
a pinch of cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, cream butter and ¼ cup sugar, using a wooden spoon.
3. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat until well combined.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix just until you form a sticky dough, being careful not to overwork the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least a half an hour, or up to overnight.