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This delightful German Plum Cake has a layer of fresh plums in the middle with a sweet, crumbly streusel on top. It's our favorite way to use seasonal plums for baking!
Plum Cake with Streusel Topping
Every summer, we find ourselves with loads of plums from our neighbors who have a plum tree that produces like crazy. They are always sharing with anybody who is willing to take plums off their hands, and I happily oblige.
Typically we eat them out of hand as fast as we can, but I will often make a galette or cobbler with them too. This year, I decided to make a German plum cake recipe and it's going to be a new tradition at our house!
A cake by many names
German Plum Cake is known as Pflaumenkuchen, Quetschekuche, Zwetschgenkuchen, or Zwetschgendatschi, depending on what part of Germany you are in. It is traditionally made with seasonal Italian prune plums that come on in Germany each summer. Those plums, also called European or Empress plums, tend to be small and egg shaped, with purple or blue skin and yellow flesh inside and smaller than the plums most of us are familiar with here.
One of the things I loved about living in Germany was how much eating seasonally is part of life there and how they celebrate seasons like plum season or white asparagus season this way. I read an article that said that 41% of Germans say plums are their favorite fruit.
Even though I didn't have the traditional Italian prune plums for this cake (they are hard to come by in the U.S.), I made it with the plums I had on hand which, frankly, felt very German anyway to be both practical and resourceful. And it turned out fantastic!
In fact, I'm sure you could make this exact same recipe using nectarines, peaches, cherries, strawberries, or other fruit and it would be delicious as well.
In some regions of the country, German plum cake is made without streusel on top or with a yeast-based cake on the bottom instead of the version I'm sharing here. Sometimes instead of the streusel the plums are just sprinkled with pearl sugar and that makes for a pretty presentation as well.
This streusel-topped version of a plum cake is closest to what we actually enjoyed while living in Frankfurt for our internships during law school and I have never been one to say no to streusel.
Choosing plums for baking
The key is to choose plums that are slightly more firm. If the plum is already super soft, it won't hold it's form as well as it bakes. As it is, the layer of juicy, sweet fruit cooks down between a generous amount of crunchy sweet streusel on top and tender cake beneath. It is heavenly with it's sweet and slightly tart taste that is amplified ever so slightly be a little lemon zest added to the cake batter under the plums.
I arranged the sliced plums in concentric circles, which would make for a pretty presentation if there wasn't streusel on top. Instead, you would just sprinkle it with pearl sugar or coarse sanding sugar. But if you are going the streusel route, which I highly recommend, you could chop up the plums and arrange them with less fussiness since they are going to be covered with streusel anyway.
There is no need to peel the plums. Just slice them in half and remove the pit, then quarter them. Sometimes that's enough depending on how large your plums are, but in my case I sliced them again into eighths and still had substantial pieces of plum for arranging onto the cake batter beneath.
How to make German plum cake
- Make the cake base. Start by creaming butter and sugar until light. Add eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest, mixing until combined. Then mix in flour, baking powder, and salt. Spread into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan or a 9-inch square baking dish.
- Arrange plums on top of the batter. Slice the plums into eighths, then lay them in a concentric pattern, slightly overlapping each other.
- Make the streusel topping. Beat flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter using a hand mixer until it resembles crumbs that clump together when you squeeze them in your hand. I always use the same bowl that I made the cake batter in to save myself having to clean another bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the plums.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The crumb topping will only turn slightly golden brown, so don't rely on the color changing too much. Cool completely before slicing and serving. We especially like this cake chilled from the fridge.
More summer fruit desserts
- Strawberry Shortcake
- Raspberry Pretzel Salad
- Fresh Fruit Pizza
- Blackberry Nectarine Crumble
- Cherry Crisp
- Rhubarb Crisp
- Peach Cobbler
- Homemade Blackberry Pie
- Fresh Strawberry Pie
- Southern Peach Pie
- Plum Crisp
- Plum Cobbler
German Plum Cake
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup salted butter softened
- 2 eggs room temperature
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 6-12 plums* pitted and halved, quartered, or cut into eighths if large (about 1 ½ to 2 pounds)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup salted butter softened
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan or line a 9-inch square pan with a parchment paper sling.
- Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla, mixing well to combine.
- Add the flour, baking power, and salt, mixing just until combined, then spread the thick batter into the prepared pan.
- Wash and slice the plums, then arrange them in a circular pattern on top of the cake batter, completely covering the batter and slightly overlapping.
- Prepare the streusel by mixing the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and softened butter in a bowl using a hand mixer for 1-2 minutes until it resembles crumbs. It should clump together if you give it a squeeze in your fist to make larger clumps of streusel. Sprinkle evenly over the plums.
- Bake for 45-55 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. This cake is delicious both warm with a scoop of ice cream or served cold from the fridge all by itself (my personal favorite).
- The number of plums really depends on their variety and size. If you have access to Italian prune plums, use those for the most authentic cake.
- Instead of topping the plums with streusel, you could also try using ½ cup of pearl sugar instead.