A summer cake: plum and ricotta tart

A neighbour’s plum tree hangs over into our courtyard. By a lot. Dark plums, with a matte grey-blue coating a sometimes dark blue, sometimes pinkish-purple skin. Inside they’re sweet yellow, but when picked a little early, like I did to beat the birds (they wait until that crucial moment when the plums are just ripe – somehow they know – then they strip the tree at the blink of an eye before you’ve even had a chance to get out of bed), the flesh is lime green. They’re still good but a little tart, which makes them wonderful for cooking.

The birds had already tasted a few plums. They tend to hang around the tree, waiting and testing a plum here and there, letting them fall to the ground after a few nibbles. But the rest, bittersweet, a little green, were mine.

With my basket of plums, still warm from the late afternoon sun, I considered making jam, then a crostata but quickly got distracted by some plum recipes from Alto Adige, Italy’s far north, found while researching this buckwheat and apple cake for my Food52 column, Regional Italian Food. With half of the fruit, I tried a plum strudel, but need to fine tune the pastry and delicate assembly. With the other half, I couldn’t resist this recipe.

Alto Adige is largely influenced by its neighbours, Austria and Switzerland, and this summer cake is no exception – it’s also a popular German cake. This torta di susine (in German, zwetschgenkuchen), intrigued me for its bread dough-like base, made with ricotta, flour, olive oil and milk (no eggs in the original recipe). As always, I’m drawn to the simplicity of the cake too – mix everything together, arrange the halved plums on top and bake.

Some versions of the cake call for a streusel (a crumble of butter, breadcrumbs and sugar) topping but the more traditional recipe keeps it plain. And it is, after all, a wonderfully plain, simple cake – the dough turns into a bouncy, soft spongy base, while the plums become fall-apart soft and juicy. It can be served with a dusting of icing (powdered) sugar or with a blob of cream, but there is nothing wrong with a plain slice, eaten perhaps next to some black coffee for breakfast, a snack or dessert.

The only laborious part of this recipe is removing the seeds from the plums, but if using ripe plums, it’s quite easy. Slice them in half, twist, and pull the seeds out with your fingers. When a little green, you may need to cut them out.

I’ve made a few small additions to the traditional recipe from Alto Adige, including adding one whole egg and coating the plums in some ground cinnamon (an excellent spice with tart fruit, such as this sour cherry and cinnamon sorbet) and raw sugar. You may like to scent the dough with some vanilla. I skipped the icing sugar as I don’t think it needs to be too sweet, it’s already well-balanced. It’s lovely with thick, plain yoghurt instead of cream too.

Torta di susine (Zwetschgenkuchen)
Plum and ricotta tart

Before starting, make sure you have quite a firm ricotta. If it’s in liquid or if it’s a very moist ricotta, scoop it into some cheesecloth, muslin or even a clean tea towel and hang it over a sieve and let it drain for an hour in the fridge before using.

  • 300 gr flour
  • 200 gr firm ricotta (see note above)
  • 60 gr fine sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • About 90ml (6 tbs) milk
  • About 60 ml (4 tbs) olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • About 20 fresh plums
  • 2 tbs raw sugar
  • 2 tbs ground cinnamon
  • butter for greasing

Prepare the dough by combining the flour, ricotta, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir in the milk, oil and egg until you have a workable dough. If it’s too dry, add a little more olive oil or milk, a tablespoon at a time. Roll the dough into a ball and rest while you prepare the plums.

Cut the plums in half and remove their seeds. Scatter raw sugar and cinnamon over them and toss until coated.

Roll out the dough to about an inch high to fit your chosen, well-buttered pan (I used a 26 cm/10 inch ceramic pie dish but you can also do this as a rectangular cake, like a sheet cake). Lay the dough in the pan, pushing gently with fingers to even the surface. Lightly press the plum halves, cut side down, into the dough. Bake at 200ºC for 30 minutes or until the plums are soft and cooked and the top golden.

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Comments

15 Responses to “A summer cake: plum and ricotta tart”
  1. Cecilia says:

    This looks delicious, I’ll bookmark it for the time when plums are in season here in the northern hemisphere. I wonder if figs would work as well in this?

  2. This looks amazing Emiko! xx

  3. Zita says:

    If I was a millionaire, I would buy a flight ticket for myself to fly to Australia and I would kindly ask you to bake this tart for me! :) Nowadays I don’t have time to bake cakes and I miss homemade cakes so much!!!

    • Emiko says:

      Haha and I would gladly make it for you! :) I know exactly what you mean by not having enough time anymore for baking – don’t worry, you’ll get there again soon!

  4. Adelina Tavares says:

    This is a beautiful cake and does look very simple. But is it the dough so firm that you can roll it? I love plums and it is not fair that you are showing us this summer cake while we are still in our european winter.

    • Emiko says:

      Yes, it’s much like a bread or even a pastry dough. The easiest thing is to roll it into a ball to rest then roll out flat with a rolling pin but you could do a rustic version by just pushing the whole thing down with your fingers to fit the pan. Love summer! ;)

  5. What a gorgeous tart, oh I long for spring and summer! I can’t wait to bake this and use cherries as well! Ah thank you for a moment of summer x

  6. Wow, I haven’t seen plums like that for many years! My father grew them once up on a time. The taste was so good… store bought fruit simple doesn’t taste the same. Your tart looks totally divine, Emiko. Aren’t you lucky to have such a bountiful tree nearby!

    • Emiko says:

      I believe they’re called Angelina plums – very good for just eating as they are too, but it was too hard to keep the birds away with the tree actually over the fence! Anyway, this tart turned out to be a great way to use the plums, so no regrets there! ;)

  7. oh, you are making me mourn the loss of my dad’s wonderful plum tree, which had similar plums with that magical blue grey skin. the tree was lost in last year’s bushfires, and that was a keenly felt loss. it made the best everything – cakes, puddings, and even just plain stewed fruit.

  8. Noki says:

    I just made this & love it! Thank you for sharing the recipe – lovely and not too sweet at all.

    I made a few small modifications that I thought were worth sharing:

    - instead of 2 TABLEspoons of baking powder, I used 2 TEAspoons, which seemed more in line with most other recipes.
    - I didn’t bother rolling the dough & just gently poked it into the pan, per your comment above – works great!
    - to flavor the dough, I added 1 TBS orange flower water and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
    - I swapped 50g of AP flour for 50g almond flower. Next time, I might even switch out 100g – the nuttiness of the almond goes quite nicely in this cake.

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