Grandma Esther’s Plum and Walnut Cake


There’s a lot of food that surrounds a wedding. Cake being one of the most important elements, clearly.

At our wedding, there will be rich, celebratory hors d’oeuvres and rich, festive main courses. There will late-night food–“kid” food, like sliders and quesadillas (it’d be cool to have these on the menu). There will be a Friday night dinner, which we’ve just seen the menu for. There will be cake.

After we eat all that, we’ll probably want to starve ourselves for a week.

And after we do that, we’ll start eating marriage food–which, you know, will be kind of a lot like the food we eat now.

And as I’m sure you know if you’ve been reading for a bit, Alex and I have deep-seated obsessions with certain dinners. Those dinners have their own aura of tradition. It only took 3+ years for that aura to grow. Sundays, we make pasta with tomato sauce. When we need cheering up, we delight in ginger-scallion noodles. We roast a whole chicken just so we can feast on the crispy potatoes stuck on the bottom of the pan.

The food we eat mainly takes inspiration from our families’ old recipes. Except for the ginger scallion noodles–those are pure Momofuku. After we get married, I’ve been told I get recipes from Alex’s Italian grandmother. And from Alex’s father’s side–the Greek recipes.

The other half of the marriage are recipes from my side. This one is from Grandma Esther, who grew up in Brooklyn, just east of where we live now. She used to bike along Eastern Parkway to the main branch of the Brooklyn Library, right in Grand Army Plaza. Right where Alex and I met.

Grandma Esther’s plum and walnut cake is of Russian-Jewish-Brooklyn descent. It’s an oil cake you can eat after a meat meal if you’re kosher. Grandma Esther kept kosher until the day her sons couldn’t resist the scent of bacon.

Now it’s become a handy cake that doesn’t require a mixer and acts as a catch-all for summer fruit. It’s a perfect match, truly meant to be with these tiny bright red plums.

These plums were so red that when Alex walked by the mixing bowls, he asked if I was making a cake with tomatoes.

I just love this cake. Generous pours of oil and sugar give the batter a luscious thickness. As the cake bakes, the top crust hardens til it’s crackly and crisp. The sweetness still makes way for the tanginess of the plums. And I love how the cake marries an old recipe perfectly with the way we eat now. With fruit from the farmers’ market and no butter in Alex’s cakes.

This post is part of Food Network’s Summer Fest! Check out what other bloggers are cooking with plums:

Ingredients, Inc.: Pork, Plums and Rosemary Kabobs
Virtually Homemade: Grilled Plum Pizza With Goat Cheese
Cooking Channel: Best Plum Dessert Recipes
Delicious Lean: Plum Delicious Pork Chops
Daily*Dishin: Roasted Chicken With Plum Chili Salsa
Healthy Eats: 6 Ways to Cook With Plums
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Time for Plum Cobbler?
Thursday Night Dinner: Plum BBQ Chicken
From My Corner of Saratoga: Plum Upside Down Cake
Cooking With Elise: Vanilla Plum Tart
Sweet Life Bake: Plum Pineapple Margarita
And Love It Too: Plum Pickin’ Pineapple Jam
FN Dish: Perfect Plum Recipes


Grandma Esther’s Plum and Walnut Cake
Makes one 9 x 9-inch cake

No need for a mixer here. The cake comes together in minutes.

1 cup oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 cups plums, pitted, cut in bite-sized pieces

Oil a 9 x 9-inch baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the oil, sugar, and eggs.

In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Pour the dry ingredients over the wet and fold in. Fold in the fruit and the walnuts.

Bake about 50 minutes, until the top is crisp and brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted in comes out clean.

Posted in: Baking For Others
  • smallgirlbigmouth

    My mom used to make this for me every time I got my heartbroken by a boy in high school. It’s amazing I’m not fat.

    • BGSK

      How funny! It’s a great cake.

  • napafarmhouse1885/diane

    looks delicious!  can’t wait to try…

  • Louisa

    This looks like just my kind of cake! Plums are not in season here in Australia for a while, so I’ll have to hide this one away for a few months. Just a question for then, what kind of oil do you recommend to use? I love to bake with olive oil but understand that sometimes the flavour can be too strong. Thank you!
    PS – Sounds like a tasty, tasty wedding feast you’re planning!

    • BGSK

      For cakes like this, I opt for safflower oil. Olive oil is fun for certain cakes, but I think it would overwhelm the flavors here. And I’m not sure how it goes with cinnamon.

  • Elise Johnson

    What a wonderful story! And that cake, well, that looks like love on a plate! Can’t wait to try!

    • BGSK

      Glad you liked it, Elise!

  • Warm Vanilla Sugar

    Mmmm this looks so yummy!

  • Ferretmaggie

    I have a very similar recipe from my husband’s grandmother, just with Crisco and Rhubarb.

    • BGSK

      How funny! Where does she hail from?

      • Ferretmaggie

         Near Pittsburg, PA

  • Heather Terry

    I can’t wait to try this! Looks amazing!

  • atingerea cuantica

    This recipe looks very nice and certainly taste very, very good. I tried to cook it and my family was impressed by the taste, the look was not very nice, but in the end taste counts more. Thanks for sharing.

  • A Bit of Brooklyn

    Looks mouthwatering… a cup of oil?  Do you think Grandma Esther would approve of an applesauce swap out or would that completely ruin the flavor?

    • BGSK

      The full cup of oil is responsible for the lovely texture and richness! Grandma Esther would probably be okay with some experimenting…what about going half oil, half applesauce? Let me know how it goes!

      • A Bit of Brooklyn

        I will! I think I may try it next weekend, hopefully it turns out well :)

  • cakecakecakewine

    Thank you for this recipe. I made this with almonds, ground ginger and cloves (bc I like spices), in a round tin (I just moved to Japan and am making do with minimal tools), and substituted 1/2 the oil for yoghurt (bc I am scared of that much oil). I was more moist than yours looks, but delicious.

    • BGSK

      Interesting additions – glad to hear you enjoyed my grandma’s cake.

  • Pamelakear

    I tried this and the entire middle was not cooked after adding 10 additional minutes, 2 different times. the edges were great but the center just didn’t cook. any idea as to what I did wrong?

    • BGSK

      All ovens are different, so it could have been the temperature or air flow in yours. If this happens again, I’d recommend keeping the cake in for another 10 or 20 minutes. Cover it with foil so the top/edges don’t burn. Sorry to hear you had trouble!

  • Marel Hirschfeld

    Just pulled one delicious looking cake out of the oven, Perfect rainy day activity. Cannot wait to dig in!

    • BGSK

      Such a perfect rainy day activity – my grandma and I so hope you enjoyed it!

  • Laura Dembowski

    I made this cake yesterday and was so excited because I was looking for something to make with plums and love using oil instead of butter in cakes. But after 80 minutes in the oven, the center was still raw and the crust, though covered with foil, was getting burnt. I’m not sure what went wrong as I followed the directions exactly.

    • BGSK

      I’m so sorry to hear that, Laura. Oven temperatures and air flow vary a lot – you might try baking it on a different level of the oven or cranking the temperature up 25 degrees.

      Also – many square pans are 8×8. Any chance yours was?

  • Jennifer

    Perfection! Used EVOO because it was the only oil I had on hand, and substituted pecans because I’m allergic to walnuts. Baked it in my trusty 9″ cast iron skillet. So tasty!

    • BGSK

      Glad you enjoyed!

  • Emilye

    I would like to double this recipe. Do I double the amount of all ingredients, including the eggs (6 eggs)? Or can I get away with 4 to 5 eggs? Thank you!

    • BGSK

      Hmm, I’d suggest doubling everything for best results. (And, you’ll probably want to bake in two pans.)

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