Monday, August 28

What to do with an Italian Prune Plum

I had read, over and over again, the praises of the Italian Prune Plum in magazines and in my most treasured dessert cookbooks, yet I had never tried one. When I came across them at the Farmer's Market last year, I was delighted at their miniture size, and their blue-ish purple appearance. Truth be told, they didn't taste all that different to me than say, a Santa Rosa, but I had faith in their superiority.

The recipe with which I chose to christen my prune plums was out of Claudia Flemings Last Course: The Desserts of the Gramercy Tavern, which I've only used several times, but flip through quite regularly. Spiced Italian Prune Plum Crisp is the kind of recipe that has set a standard in my kitchen. I had always considered crips pretty homely, and while delicious, somewhat unsophisticated. This crisp is in another league entirely. Made with flour, ground walnuts, brown and white sugar, and kissed with the essense of cinnamon and cardamom, the topping is gently mixed by fork while melted butter is poured slowly into the bowl, creating nubby, wet crumbs that are sprinkled generously, (and in great quantity) over the quartered plums.

The glory of the Italian Prune Plum lies in its size. Because it is small, and less juicy than other plums, when it is baked, it concentrates in flavor and texture, so that the fruit maintains more of its shape, and because there is less liquid, the flavor is more intense. The crisp topping is just that: Crisp. While so many crisp toppings end up slightly gummy, this mixture ends up with a beautiful crunchy texture, somewhat along the lines of a butter cookie, but with a warm and rich flavor from the ground walnuts. While I usually can't resist the opportunity to try something new, when I saw some gorgeous Italian Prune Plums at Whole Foods on Saturday, I didn't even hesitate before pulling out this recipe again.

I would highly recommend using this crisp topping on any of your favorite fruits, but if you can find Italian Prune Plums, give them a try - it's a wonderful combination.


Spiced Italian Prune Plum Crisp

"Served warm from the oven, this fragrant plum crisp makes a heavenly late-summer treat. The cinnamon and cardamom really bring out the inherent spicy flavors that develop inside cooked prune plums; and the nutty crisp topping is a delectable contrast to the soft, flavorful fruit that bubbles colorfully underneath it."

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used half whole-wheat pastry flour)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ground walnuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (I used nutmeg instead; I didn't have cardamom)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 1/4 pounds Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered (6 cups)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, walnuts, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Slowly drizzle in the butter and combine with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Do not allow the mixture to come together in a ball. Break up any large crumbs with your fingers. The crumbs should be smaller than 1 inch in size (otherwise they won't cook all the way through).

In another large bowl, combine the plums and the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and toss well. Spoon the fruit into a buttered 2-quart gratin or shallow casserole dish, mounding the fruit in the center. Evenly sprinkle the crumbs on top of the fruit.

Bake the crisp until the fruit is bubbling and the topping browned, 50 to 55 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Serving suggestions: Serve with whipped creme fraiche, vanilla or basil ice cream.

Serves 8 - 10


  1. I have to admit I've never cooked or baked with prunes. But I've seen several blogs and recipes on the Web using them, and I think I'll have to try it. The color is absolutely glorious!

  2. Anonymous10:23 PM

    I usually don't like prunes (had a bad experience with them when I was little), but this looks good to me. I'd eat just about any fruit when it's covered with a crisp topping like this. Looks perfect!

  3. Actually, they are truly plums...I suppose maybe they make great prunes, so they call them "prune plums", but they are just juicy little plums - not prunes, which I think would make for a rather "sticky" crisp!


  4. Jess,

    You have truly done a beautiful thing with your Italian prunes! I hve been enjoying them for years and actually love prune jam.

    You've also convinced me to finally buy the Claudia Fleming book!

  5. Ivonne, You won't be disappointed in Claudia's book - it's full of beautiful and delicious recipes. Prune Plum jam sounds like it would be outstanding... I wonder if I can still get my hands on some of these beauties! If I can, I know what I'll be doing with them.

  6. Anonymous1:09 AM

    Hi, Jess, it's me again. I wanted to tag you for the 5 Things to Eat Before You die meme. What would go on your list?

  7. Anonymous7:42 PM

    what can you replace the ground walnuts with? - i have a son who is allergic to nuts & peanuts
    ~ Lorraine

  8. Anonymous7:43 PM

    what can you replace the ground walnuts with as i have a son who is allergic to nuts & peanuts?

  9. Lorraine,

    sorry for the delayed response! I would try to replace them with rolled oats (give them a zizz in a food processor to grind them finely), or even just use a little additional flour. The nuts really just add some crunch to the final topping, and you could certainly get by without them.


  10. I just made this with some not-so-great Italian prunes I actually got on a whim from Costco; it turned out beautifully despite the mediocre fruit. I also used all whole wheat flour as a substitute for the white flour.

    Thank you for this recipe - I'll definitely use it again. My house smells wonderful and my family is asking for seconds as I type!

  11. Heidi7:04 PM

    Awesome recipe. I made a recipe last night exactly as written and it was so good that it was all gone by morning, so I just made another but used semi ground up oats instead of the walnuts and it turned out just as good :D Thanks for posting it.

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  14. Anonymous8:31 AM

    Jess, they are Italian prunes. The only difference is that they are freestone not clings or clingstone.
    Julie from Vallecito

  15. Rachel10:28 PM

    Delicious!!! I made it earlier in the week from your recipe and it was completely devoured. I am hoping Costco still has these little plums in stock next week so I can enjoy it one more time before next season! Hmm...I wonder how plums freeze? I remember my mom always froze peaches when they were in season, maybe I could freeze some plums--in 6-cup increments of course! ;)

  16. Anonymous1:24 PM

    When I freeze the plums they release their juices when they defrost.

    1. Good point! I baked the ones I froze while still frozen (popped the cold jars in the cold oven to warm/bake) so I didn't notice the juices, I'll keep that in mind for future experiments :)

  17. I experimented with freezing the little Italian prune plums last year with great success. I used little straight sided 8oz wide mouth canning jars (leftovers from pies-in-jars) and filled them with the quartered plums and topped them with this topping. (Btw they sell plastic canning jar lids that are great for the freezer.) It was wonderful to be able to pull an individual little treat out of the freezer and bake it up all winter, and sure helped with portion control as I could devour the entire pan it's so delicious!
    My mods are to double the nuts and add a cup of rolled oats to squeeze a spec more whole grains into my kiddos. :)

  18. I have recently moved to Germany and our garden has two zwetschgen trees: we have just picked our first crop and I googled recipes and this came up... I look forward to preparing this tonight as it looks delicious. My translator says zwetschen are damson plums - but I know them also as prune (shaped) plums. They are delicious whatever they are!


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