German Plum Cake (Zwetschgenkuchen)

This authentic German Plum Cake recipe, known as Zwetschgenkuchen or Zwetschgendatschi, is made just the way you know and love it from Germany!  A yeast-based cake with juicy plums and a sweet streusel topping, this extraordinarily delicious cake is one of my very favorites and is the way my Mutti and Oma made it!

For more fruity German cakes be sure to also try our German Apple Cake, Rhubarb Streusel Cake, and while not exactly “cake,” our Apple Strudel is a must!

german plum cake recipe traditional authentic zwetschgenkuchen rezept pflaumenkuchen zwetschgendatschi blechkuchen

Depending on which region of Germany you’re in, German plum cake goes by a variety of names including Zwetschgenkuchen, Zwetschgendatschi, Quetschekuche or Pflaumenkuchen.  I know, they’re all tongue-twisters! :)

Variations exist throughout the regions of Germany with some versions using a yeast dough while others use a shortcrust pastry known as Rührteig.  Some have a streusel topping while others omit it.  And some people make them round and taller while others make them rectangular in the style known as “Blechkuchen” (sheet pan cake).  But whichever pastry crust is used, with or without streusel, and whether it’s round or rectangular, all of these versions showcase the plump, juicy, sweet European plums known as Italian plums.

german plum cake recipe traditional authentic zwetschgenkuchen rezept pflaumenkuchen zwetschgendatschi blechkuchen

Which Plums Do I Need to Make German Plum Cake?

To make proper German plum cake you really need Italian plums.  These are small and oval-shaped and are far meatier than their Asian plum cousins.  Fleshier with a lower moisture content is important because you want to have a moist cake, not a mushy cake.  Italian plums are considered the most ideal for cooking and baking not only because of their texture but also because their flavor becomes more complex and delicious through cooking.  Italian plum season is short, usually from September through early October, and Germans know how to seize the opportunity when it’s there.  So wait patiently for plum season and then hit your local farmer’s markets for some Italian plums.  Alternatively you can also use frozen Italian plums; just be sure to thaw and very thoroughly drain them before using them.

We were so lucky to have our own Italian plum trees when we lived in Washington State.  When we moved to Virginia a few years ago we immediately got to work planting an orchard of fruit trees, including some Italian plums.  They’re not yielding a lot of fruit yet, but they’re getting there and I’ll be ready for them!

fresh italian plums

The version of German Plum Cake that we’re making today is my personal favorite.  It’s made with yeast dough, which is more time-consuming than the simpler Rührteig (shortcrust pastry) versions, but it’s far superior in my opinion.  This traditional version is also sprinkled with a streusel topping.  This Zwetschgenkuchen recipe is the way my Mutti and Oma made it and is typical of where I’m from in Baden-Württemberg, though this version is popular throughout Germany.  This type of Zwetschgenkuchen is typically made on a Backblech (a baking sheet) versus in a round springform and cut into squares for serving.

Like most German cakes, this German plum cake is not overly sweet.  It has a nice balance between sweet and tart with just a touch of warmth from the cinnamon.  The riper the plums the sweeter the cake will be.

This German plum cake will keep for 2-3 days.  And although the streusel will get soft, the cake tastes even better the day after baking as the juices from the plums have time to penetrate the dough.

german plum cake recipe traditional authentic zwetschgenkuchen rezept pflaumenkuchen zwetschgendatschi blechkuchen

Can I Use Other Fruits?

You sure can!  This recipe is also delicious using other stone fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines.

Can You Freeze German Plum Cake?

Yes, you can.  I generally recommend eating it within a couple of days but if you have more leftovers than you can manage, this can be wrapped and put in a freezer container for up to a month.  Let it thaw in the fridge overnight.

german plum cake recipe traditional authentic zwetschgenkuchen rezept pflaumenkuchen zwetschgendatschi blechkuchen

German Plum Cake Recipe

Let’s get started!

Dissolve the yeast into the warm milk and let is sit for 5-10 minutes until frothy.

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and pour in the yeast mixture, melted warm (not hot) butter, eggs and vanilla extract.  Give it an initial stir to combine the ingredients and then attach a dough hook and knead it on the bread setting (“2”) for 4-5 minutes.

The dough will be sticky but should hold together fairly well.  It will not be firm enough to knead into a ball, think of it more as a thick batter.

Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and set it in a warm, draft free place to rise for an hour or until about doubled in size.

making the yeast dough

Generously butter a large jelly roll pan (at least 18 inches in length and about 13 inches wide) or, like I’m using and as pictured below, a German Backblech if you have one (the one I’m using in the picture I brought with me from Germany).

buttering the pan

Use your hands to spread the dough out across the full length of the pan, pressing it up against the sides.  It’s yeast dough so it will resist, but just keep pushing it back into position the best you can.  Once you put the plums on it, those will help keep it in place.

spreading the dough onto the pan

Time for the plums!  The riper the plums the sweeter the cake will be.  However, if they’re overly ripe – meaning mushy – they’ll be even mushier on the finished baked product, so keep that in mind too.

Cut the plums in half and remove the pits.  Then slice the plums in half again, slicing each plum into quarters.

Lay the plums close together in rows over the whole length of the dough on the sheet pan.

If you want your cake a bit sweeter you can sprinkle it *lightly* with sugar or cinnamon-sugar if you prefer more cinnamon.  I emphasize “lightly” because the more sugar you add the more watery the cake will be as the sugar liquifies during baking and your streusel will also “melt” in contact with it.

Set the pan in a warm place and let it rise for up to another hour.

placing the sliced plums on the dough

Now let’s make the streusel topping.  Place all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and use your fingers to bring it all together.  Work with the mixture until it’s thoroughly combined and forms a rough sand and clumpy texture.

making the streusel topping

Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the cake.

sprinkling the streusel topping over the cake

Bake the cake on the middle rack of the oven preheated to 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden.

Let the cake sit for at least 10 minutes before slicing to let some of the liquid set.

german plum cake recipe traditional authentic zwetschgenkuchen rezept pflaumenkuchen zwetschgendatschi blechkuchen

Slice the cake into squares.

A tool that I use that’s really handy and works like a charm for sheet cakes and many other things is the OXO Multi-Purpose Scraper & Chopper.

german plum cake recipe traditional authentic zwetschgenkuchen rezept pflaumenkuchen zwetschgendatschi blechkuchen

Serve and enjoy!

Guten Appetit!

german plum cake recipe traditional authentic zwetschgenkuchen rezept pflaumenkuchen zwetschgendatschi blechkuchen

For more delicious German desserts be sure to try our:

Originally published on The Daring Gourmet September 8, 2016

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