Plums love having their picture taken. I’m pretty new to food photography, but I’ve noticed that about them: they co-operate. Also? There ain’t a finer fruit to be had – a plum at it’s peak is IT for me, the absolute best of summer, with enough taste of autumn coming to make me a little nostalgic, and a little anxious (all those days of markets groaning with strawberries, raspberries, cherries – gone). By the time we’re hitting late September or early October around here, the plums on the stands will likely be Italian plums, sometimes calling themselves prune plums. But really, though I like prunes well enough, where's the romance? I like saying Italian plums – they conjure up images of feasts and fabulousness in the mind.
I first made this plum tart for Thanksgiving dinner a couple of years ago, and it went over smashingly. By which I mean that I loved it, and I've made it every fall since then, and believe me, the people in this house are just fine with that. It’s a little high-brow, more comely than a crisp or cobbler when you’re after something just that little bit fancier. Weekend instead of Weekday if you will.
I’ve made this crust a couple of different ways, the first with a whole egg, or alternatively with two yolks. The whole egg crust was proclaimed by my husband to be ‘Perfection!’, and I’ve got to say: he’s not generally known as a crust man. Nor is he given to the over-use of superlatives (unless we're talking about skiing, or surfing, or biking). The crust with two yolks is a little more tender, as you'd expect, but the whole egg crust was just fine, especially during it’s first twenty-four hours.
The quantity of plums called for here was about three (or was it five?) plum halves more than I could stuff in my 9 inch tart shell – but you may be using a 10 inch tart shell, or you may be able to pile them in more efficiently than I did. I ate the excess, but feel free to adjust slightly downward if you prefer.
I don’t suggest this tart as a vehicle for other varieties of plum – I suspect the juices would create total havoc. You can see what's happened here with the relatively dry Italians, I think it's best to stick with them.
Plum Tart (adapted from Gourmet September 2000)
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) all purpose flour
1/3 cup (80 grams) sugar
pinch or two of salt
1/2 cup (125 grams) cold butter
zest of half a lemon
1 egg or 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (125 grams) sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 3/4 pounds (800 grams) of Italian prune plums, cut in half and stones removed
2 tsp lemon juice
To make the pastry:
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Pare the butter into large curls directly into the flour. Add the zest, then cut the butter in with a pastry blender or a fork (or use your fingers) – stop when the largest pieces of butter left are about the size of a pea. Make a well in the centre of the mixture, and pour the beaten egg into the well. Roughly mix together with a fork, then use your hands to form the mass into doughy crumbs. You’ll want to keep things a little uneven: you’ll have a few crumbs in the bottom of the bowl, and some larger clumps too. Turn the lot into a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom (don’t wash the bowl yet!), and press into the the bottom and sides to form a shell for the tart. Place in the fridge until it’s cold and firm, about 30 minutes.
To make the filling:
In the same bowl as you you used for the pastry (still unwashed – no need! Please read the note below regarding the washing of bowls...), whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the plums and the lemon juice and mix together. Let it all sit on the counter for about another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the juices from the plums have partially dissolved the sugar and made a starchy slurry in the bottom of the bowl.
Preheat the oven to 450ºF.
Crowd the plum halves skin side down in the cold tart shell and scrape the remaining slurry overtop. Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet or pizza pan and bake in the middle of your oven for 15 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 375ºF, and bake for a further 40-45 minutes, until you’ve got juices bubbling about half way to the centre of the tart and likely some juice spilling over onto the baking sheet (okay, quite a lot. But strangely, spilling juices seem to be a good sign in the world of fruit tarts and pies – don’t you think?). The tart will look a bit too soupy, but everything will set up nicely once it cools.
Take the tart out of the oven – still on its baking sheet – and cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. At this point you can brush some of the juices pooling in the tart overtop of the fruit to glaze them slightly, and it might be a good idea to use a metal spatula to liberate the tart pan from its baking sheet too. Be very careful – fruit juices and sugar get terrifyingly hot. All the same, you don’t want to leave it so long the two pans fuse together.
Let the tart cool completely, then pop the base free of the sides, slice and serve however you like: with ice cream, crème fraîche, whipped cream or crème anglaise. Or all by itself is fine too, particularly if you’re having leftovers for breakfast (which I highly recommended).
When my friend Julie gave me recipes to test prior to the publication of her first book One Smart Cookie, the recipe for lemon squares mentioned the golden phrase ‘no need to wash it!’ in reference to the bowl used for making first the base, then the topping. I swooned. She’s pretty brilliant, no?