German plum cake, Zwetschgenkuchen, or Pflaumenkuchen with streusel is a classic recipe baked in any German kitchen or bakery.
This traditional German plum cake recipe is one of my favorite autumn cakes, one of the most popular cakes in Germany. Nothing speaks more of autumn, crisp air, and delicious baked goods than this amazing Zwetschgenkuchen, a typical streusel cake, or Pflaumenkuchen mit Streusel.
There are different versions of plum cake, and I love them all, but this German cake is the best if you ask me. Other favorites are the Plum Bread, these super Easy Puff Pastry Plum Tarts, or the Tender Plum Muffins (with Yogurt and Cinnamon).
Any German person who bakes has probably baked this cake before. Anyone who doesn’t bake probably buys it at the bakery every autumn. It is the quintessence of late summer or autumn cake of the plum season: the yeasty dough, the sweet and sour plums, the crispy, sweet, buttery streusel. I love it so much!
You can the German plum cake fresh from the oven, still a bit warm, fluffy underneath, moist and rather sour in the middle, crisp and sweet on top. It can hardly get any better!
- For the dough: all-purpose flour, yeast, sugar, milk, egg, and butter.
- For the streusel: flour, sugar, unsalted butter, and cinnamon.
- For the topping: Italian prune plums (Zwetschgen).
What are Zwetschgen?
- A smaller type of plum that grows just about every corner around here, many of our neighbors have a plum tree in their garden, so I am never short on supply. Check this Plum Butter (Pflaumenmuss) or the Stewed Plums; they are a great way to deal with a glut of fresh Italian plums.
- Also known as Italian plums, empress plums, or European plums, they are sweet-sour, almost black plums.
- You can pick or buy them from the end of August until October.
- I prefer to use this sort when making this delicious cake because they are less juicy than regular large ones, so the dough will not get soaked.
- They are also much easier to cut from the stone, giving you these beautiful butterflied plums to cover the cake with.
- They are less sweet than regular plums, with a sweet-sour taste, which develops even more during the baking process.
How to make German plum cake?
What kind of yeast to use?
- The best kind is fresh. However, I know that fresh yeast is not available everywhere, so I have used active or instant dry yeast a lot since I started blogging. It works.
- Dough made with dry yeast needs a longer rising time than dough made with fresh.
- When making this Zwetschgenkuchen with fresh yeast, the dough needs about 30-40 minutes (depending on how warm my kitchen is), while dough made with active dry yeast needs about an hour, sometimes an hour and 10 minutes.
- Keep an eye on the dough and continue with the recipe as soon as the dough has doubled in size.
- If you leave the dough for too little time and it doesn’t have enough time to rise, the end product will be flat and less fluffy. But if you leave the dough to rise too much is not good either. The dough will lose its power and sink during the baking process. So, leave it until about doubled in size.
- You will need ½ cube of fresh yeast to make this plum streusel cake. ½ cube is 21 g/ 0.7 oz in Germany or 1 sachet (7 g/0.25 oz) of active dry yeast.
How to make the yeast dough:
- Combine: Place the flour, sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix well with a spoon. Pour the milk into a small pot and heat it very gently. It should only have about 36 degrees Celsius/ 96 degrees Fahrenheit, so body temperature. If it is hotter, it will destroy the yeast, and the dough will not rise.
- Add butter and yeast to the milk and stir until the butter has melted. Pour the milk mixture and the lightly beaten egg into the flour mixture (1).
- Knead the dough for the plum cake with the hand-held mixer fitted with dough hooks or a stand mixer with a dough hook. Knead until the dough starts coming off the sides of the bowl. Turn onto the working surface and knead with your hands for a couple of minutes (2).
- Let rise: Form a ball, and place it back into the large bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth or plastic wrap and let the rise in a warm place. It will need about an hour until about doubled in size.
How to make streusel?
- Food processor: Mix the ingredients in the food processor until the mixture turns to crumbs or rub the cold butter into the flour mixture until you obtain the crumbs.
- By hand: Rub butter and flour with your fingertips; the palms of your hands are too warm for this. Hold the fingers under cold water, dry them well, and then rub the butter into the flour (3).
- Refrigerate: Place the streusel in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Alternatively, you can make the crumbles with melted butter and brown sugar and add a little bit of lemon peel, vanilla sugar, or vanilla extract. But I prefer the classic version of this delicious German plum cake.
How to pit the plums?
- You will need more or less 1 kg/ 2.2 lbs plums; just keep going until you top all of your dough.
- While the dough is rising, stone fruit.
- Don’t cut the plums all the way through; they should remain attached on one side. Instead, cut the fresh prune plums on the side along the seam that runs from top to bottom. Then, open the fruit, and remove the stone with your fingers, but don’t cut it into halves; leave the pieces attached on one side (4).
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/ 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. My tray is 30×40 cm/ 12×16 inches.
- Roll the yeasted dough with a rolling pin to match the size of the tray. Carefully put it on the tray and stretch and press with your fingers until everything fits.
- Arrange the prepared fruit on top (5).
- Sprinkle the streusel on top of the German plum cake (6).
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown (7).
- Let stand for about 20 minutes before slicing.
- Here is your delicious coffee cake, perfect for Kaffee or Kuchen.
This recipe makes a large batch. However, you can easily halve the ingredients and bake the plum cake in a smaller tin or a springform with a diameter of about 26 cm/ 10 inches.
Try nectarines, fresh or canned peaches, or apricots. Cherries (either fresh or canned) are perfect as well. Or apples, pears, or a mixture of the two.
And if you happen to have some leftover fruit, chop and mix everything and use that instead. And check out this delicious Red Currant Cake as well, a twist on the classic German fruit yeast cake.
Yeast cakes are always best served on the day you bake them. However, leftovers are still delicious the next day but not as fluffy anymore.
Serve the German plum cake as it is, or sprinkle it with icing sugar.
Traditionally, you would serve it at room temperature with homemade whipped cream.
Lukewarm is delicious as well. In this case, serving it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top is just heaven.
The German Plum cake keeps well for 3-4 days.
Room temperature: keep for one day covered with a clean towel.
Refrigerate it after the second day in airtight containers.
Freeze: Once completely cool, cut the plum cake into squares. Place in airtight containers or wrap well in foil and refrigerate for 3-4 months.
Defrost on the counter. Once at room temperature, you can serve it directly or refresh it in the oven. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the pieces on a lined baking tray and reheat for 5 to 10 minutes.
More traditional German cakes:
German Plum Cake
Yeast dough (Note 1):
- 350 g all-purpose flour 12.3 oz/ 3 cups minus 1 tablespoon
- 50 g granulated sugar 1.7 oz/ ¼ cup
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- 150 ml milk 5 oz/ 2/3 cup
- 1 sachet active dry yeast 7 g/ 0.25 oz (Note 2)
- 50 g unsalted butter 1.7 oz/ scant ¼ cup
- 1 egg
- 250 g all-purpose flour 8.8 oz/ 2 cups + 1 tablespoon
- 125 g granulated sugar 4.4 oz/ ½ cup + 2 tablespoons
- 150 g unsalted butter 5.3 oz/ scant 2/3 cup
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 kg Italian plums 2.2 lbs, more or less as needed to cover the cake
- Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.
- Heat the milk gently in a small saucepan (36 degrees Celsius/ 96 degrees Fahrenheit, so body temperature).
- Combine: Add butter and yeast to the milk and stir until the butter has melted. Pour milk mixture and lightly beaten egg into the flour mixture.
- Knead the dough with the hand-held mixer fitted with dough hooks or a stand mixer with a dough hook. Knead as long as possible to combine everything well together. Then, turn the mixture onto the working surface and knead the dough with your hand for a couple of minutes.
- Let rise: Form a ball, place it back in the bowl, cover it with a clean cloth and let the dough rise in a warm place. The dough will need about an hour until about doubled in size.
- Mix flour, sugar, and cinnamon in the food processor. Add the very cold butter, cut into cubes, and process shortly until the streusel form. Refrigerate until needed (Note 3).
- Remove the stones from the plums while the yeast dough is rising. Don't cut the plums all the way through; they should remain attached on one side.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/ 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking tray of about 30×40 cm/ 12×16 inches with baking paper.
- Roll the yeast dough with a rolling pin to match the size of the tray. Carefully place the dough on the tray and stretch and press with your fingers until everything fits.
- Arrange the stoned plums on top.
- Sprinkle with the streusel.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
- Let rest for about 20 minutes before slicing it and serve as suggested above.
- Always use a digital kitchen scale in baking; it ensures the best results (Amazon affiliate link).
- If using fresh yeast, you will need 21 g/ 0.7 oz of it. The dough will probably rise quicker in this case, so check after 30-40 minutes already and proceed with the recipe if the dough has doubled in size.
- Streusel without a food processor: Mix flour, cinnamon, and sugar in a bowl. Add the cold butter cubes and cut the butter into the flour (with a butter knife) until you obtain streusel. If doing this with your hands, only use your fingertips; the butter will get warm too quickly if you use your palms.