The Life and Times of a Plum Cake Recipe

The Life and Times of a Plum Cake Recipe

I could say I invented these Cinna-Plum Muffins but that would be a lie. I took a very established recipe for plum cake and put it into muffin shape. I used bit more cinnamon and sugar than called for but other than that, I changed nothing.

My imaginary best friend, Deb from Smitten Kitchen, highlights this recipe on her blog. She calls it Purple Plum Torte. But she gives the credit to Amanda Hesser and the New York Times Essential Cookbook. Which is a compilation of favorite recipes printed in the New York Times newspaper over the years. This recipe was first published in 1983 by Marian Burros, who got it from a friend of hers. Apparently the NYT then published it every year in late September for the next 12 years until they told readers they were cutting them off, they needed to laminate their cut out newspaper copies, there were other recipes to be written. In 2010, when Amanda Hesser was compiling recipes for the huge NYT Essential Cookbook and asked readers for suggestions to be included, she got this recipe suggested 247 times.

For all of this love, as with so many well-loved things, it is astoundingly easy to make. It’s a pretty basic batter with a bunch of pretty, perfectly in season, plums pressed into the top. Then topped with cinnamon and sugar. Next time I make this recipe (which may be later this afternoon) I’ll mix the cinnamon and sugar together before sprinkling it over the plums.

I give you the recipe, exactly as it came to me. Follow the directions exactly, make small changes, make huge changes, change the shape. Call it yours. Give thanks to everyone who came before you. Pass it along to someone else. As far as I’m concerned, food ideas are meant to be eaten, shared and passed along. These are my muffins, and I’d be nowhere at all without Deb and Amanda and Marian and her friend Lois…and my mom and her mom and the friend who gave me the plums and the friend of hers who gave her the plums to give to me. And so on.

Cinna-Plum Muffins


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 small Italian plums cut in half and pitted

For the topping

  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. If you are making a cake, grease and line a 9 inch springform pan. If you are making muffins, grease or line approximately 12 standard muffin tins.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

  3. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and light. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure they are fully mixed in to the batter. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

  4. Spoon the batter into the muffins cups or cake tin and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, cut side down, all over the top. You may need more or less plums, go on and crowd them on there.

  5. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the plums. Then sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar. (I'd mix the cinnamon and sugar together and then sprinkle.)

  6. Bake until cake is golden. A cake will take about 45 minutes. Start checking the muffins at about 25 minutes.

  7. These little beauties are even better the next day when the plum juices have had time to settle into the batter.

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