From Living Within, October 2016
It may be autumn, but the last stone fruits of summer are still in season - plums notably - and where I have been recently not only do they form a large part of the scenery but also of the livelihood of many in the locale. I learned something new about them this year. Having grown used to the annual harvest with its all-enveloping “bat capes” fastened around the base of tree trunks accompanied by a mechanically assisted shakedown, giving this delicate crop both a nudge and a safe landing, what I had not understood were the niceties of timing - which are entirely plum dependent. Plums not yet ready may shimmy and shake but will not drop from the tree. You can put a skirt on a tree and make it dance, apparently, but the rhythm still belongs to nature.
I happened upon some beautiful blue-black Quetsches. These Look a bit like large damsons, and taste like sweet plums, but any plum can be substituted for them in the tart that I have made here with them.
You will need a shell of sweet, crisp (blind-baked) pastry. The pastry that I used was a pâte sucrée - a rich mix of flour, butter, egg yolks, sugar and a pinch of salt. An admittedly hard-to-handle pastry, but you can substitute a simpler sweetened shortcrust without losing too much finesse.
Cut in half, lengthways, enough plums to make a pattern on the base of the tart shell; put them, skin side down, in a roasting tin, sprinkle with a little fine sugar, and roast in a pre-heated hot oven (at least 180ºC) for about 5 minutes - until the juices just start to run - make sure to remove them from the oven long before the plums might lose their shape. Leave to cool on a rack, cut side down, allowing them to drain a little.
At the same time make a kind of custard by whisking together 1 whole egg (or, better still, 3 separated egg yolks to create a richer mix) with about 55g sugar; then whisk in approx 200ml crème fraîche (or thick cream) and 35g ground almonds (adjust quantities up or down and roughly in proportion according to the size of your tart shell and your own taste). You can add other flavours if you like at this stage (vanilla, or a tablespoon of brandy or armagnac, for example), but you don’t have to. Place the plum halves, still cut side down, around the base of the tart; pour over the custard so that it comes near to the top of the tart shell (it mustn’t spill over the top), then place, carefully so as not to tip the filling, into a pre-heated oven (180ºC or equivalent).
Bake until the filling is set, and golden on the top (about 30 minutes). Leave to cool; serve warm or at room temperature with additional cream to hand round.