Monday, 27 August 2012

Plum Tart

Slice of Greengage Tart

Our short plum season is in full swing so it's time to make the most of it.  The tiny elusive golden Mirabelle, which heralds the start of the harvest has already been and gone here.  They were very hard to find this year and I only managed to get enough to make a couple of clafoutis.  The fruits are usually too small to remove the stone, and anyway cooking them stone-in brings out the natural almond notes.  You do have to remember to warn everyone about the stones though!

After the Mirabelle comes the Gage, or Reine Claude, group.  Sir William Gage brought reine-claude trees over from France in the early 18th century but, the labels having been lost, the fruits became known as 'the green Gage's plum', later 'greengage'.   Nurseryman Jervais Cole subsequently hybridised the reine-claude producing new varieties Coe's Golden Drop, Coe's Violet and Coe's Crimson Drop.  Though considered superior in flavour they proved to be poor croppers so were not favoured by commercial growers.  These days we can generally only buy 'greengages' but, oh, how I'd like to try a Coe's Golden Drop.  As Jane Grigson learned when researching her Fruit Book, 'the skin is rather tough, but between this and the stone floats an ineffable nectar'.  The pale green to gold hue of the greengage belies the juicy sweetness within.  They're good to eat just as they are but I like to use them in cooking as they need very little sugar to bring out their flavour.

Greengage Tart
The plum/ gage and fruits such as peaches, apricots and cherries, share the same genus (Prunus) as the sweet almond so you often see almonds paired with stone fruits. Bitter almond extract or Amaretto can be added to further heighten the flavour.  The bitter almond is extracted from the kernel inside the stone, particularly of apricots, but, should you be tempted to make your own, take care as the fruit kernels contain a cyanide compound which needs to be removed by a roasting process.

I used greengages for this tart but any plum will work, just vary the amount of sugar you sprinkle on them depending on their natural sweetness.  I like to use vanilla sugar and keep a jar of caster sugar in which I store used vanilla pods to permeate the sugar.   Vanilla is an expensive spice but it's worth buying the best you can afford.  It should be glossy, wrinkled but pliable and, I think, have a prune-like aroma.  Making use of the pods after they've been used in, say, a poaching liquid renders them a more economical buy.  I leave the skins on some of the almonds for a more rustic texture and better flavour.

Plum Tart
(23cm  tart tin)

PASTRY (makes 2 x 23cm tart cases – you’ll need one for this recipe):

250g (10oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) ground almonds
Pinch of salt
150g(6oz) cold unsalted butter
75g (3oz) icing sugar
Grated rind of half a lemon
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk

125g unsalted butter, softened
125g whole almonds - blanch half of them and remove the skins then coarsely grind all
75g caster sugar
½ tblsp plain flour
1 egg
8-10 plums, halved and stoned
25g vanilla caster sugar (more if fruit is tart)

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the ground almonds and salt. Add the butter and rub in with fingertips. Sift in icing sugar and add grated lemon rind and mix. Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and stir it into the dry ingredients. Mix just until the dough comes together then turn out and knead gently to smooth the surface.  Wrap half of the pastry and rest in fridge for just 30 minutes (wrap and freeze the other half for another time).

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven) Lightly butter a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin.   Roll out the pastry thinly and line the tin, smoothing off the top and pricking the base. Rest in the fridge for a further 15-30 minutes.  

Line with greaseproof paper and dried beans and bake the tart blind for 10 minutes.  Remove the lining and beans and return the tart to the oven for a further 4-5 minutes to make sure the base is cooked.  Remove from the oven and turn the oven temperature down to 160C (140C fan).

For the filling, whisk the softened butter and sugar together until pale.  Mix in the ground nuts and flour, then the egg.  Spoon into the pastry case and spread evenly.  Push the fruit in, cut side up and sprinkle a little of the vanilla sugar over each plum half.  Cook for 35-40 minutes.  Cover with foil if the tart is browning too much.

Best served warm with double cream but this tart keeps well for a day or two.