Plum Tart with an Almond Crumble

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Summer is winding down supposedly, even though it is still close to 100 F out there. I do not much like summer in Houston. It’s too hot, too humid too…sunny. Autumn is by far my favorite season and I look forward to its -hopefully- lower temperatures and cooking. Summer does have some things going for it though, like the awesome fruit and sweet corn.

Fruit is what we are talking about when I bring up one of my all-time favorite desserts; the fruit tart (or pie, or gallette,…). This version, created by David Lebovitz is right up there in the Pantheon of amazing tarts. The original recipe, from his book My Paris Kitchen (great book by the way, buy yourself a copy), can also be found on Leite’s Culinaria. The original uses apricots and it is fantastic. The crumble works so well with the tart juicy fruit to add much needed texture and also helps support the fruit and all its juices. It also looks great giving the tart a rustic elegance that is a bit American and a bit French.

Plum

I love the original apricot version but when I wanted to make this recently, no apricots could be found. So, I picked up some really delicious juicy pink plums instead (Plumcots or Pluots specifically). That is really all you need, some delicious fruit and this tart can be made with them.

The dough is pretty classic pate sucrè made with flour, sugar, butter, egg yolks and mahlab. Well, wait a minute. What the hell is mahlab?? That is not traditional French. It is my addition to this dough and to many other things to give them a unique flavor and fragrance. Mahlab is the ground up seed of a specific cherry and is used in tons of Middle Eastern and Turkish pastries and breads. I buy the stuff whole because it keeps better from a local Lebanese grocery and grind it with sugar before adding to the dough. About a half teaspoon went into this dough. You can read a bit more about it here. Since it is made from a stone fruit I like to include it in some breads and desserts that have stone fruits, but really it works in all kinds of stuff. Try it as an alternative to nutmeg in some things and it will give your dish an exotic can’t-quiet-put-my-finger-on-it flavor.

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Mahlab

When the dough is cooled, I pat it down into a spring-form pan. No rolling or anything, just evenly pat it into the pan with the sides of the dough about halfway up the side of the pan. I have tried rolling it and laying it in there. That works too but I’ve come around to using the hand patting method more. I like the process and speed by which I can get it done. It does not have to be perfect, just as even as possible and the sides close to 2 inches tall or so. This gets blind baked with a piece of aluminum and a bunch of beans for weight and then it is ready to fill and bake.

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This filling is fruit, starch, sugar and some vanilla and almond extracts. After the filling goes in the blind baked shell, it gets topped with a generous helping of crumble made from butter, flour, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon. The pie bakes for a good 45 minutes or so and the edges of the crust get a lovely dark color. It seems too dark almost but it is not, it tastes great and the texture is excellent.

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After it cools a bit, it is ready to go. It is delicious with ice cream or whipped cream of course but it is also delicious on its own at room temperature. The only downside to this lovely dessert are those juicy fruits. It does not keep very well. So, try and polish it off with some friends with in 12 – 24 hours of baking which really should not be much of a problem.

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Peaches and Cream, Streusel and Cherries

When I think of Texas fruits, two immediately come to mind, ruby red grapefruit and peaches. That’s fairly narrow thinking, since Texas is so huge and offers a large variety of climates and vegetation. It’s those two fruits that always pop to mind though. Recently on a road trip outside of Houston, I noticed a stand (one of several on the sides of the Hill Country area roads) advertising fresh Texas peaches. The couple at the stand had some amazingly fragrant peaches. The fruit was not much to look at, they are not the large plump and blemish free specimens you see at the supermarket. They were smaller. Some were almond-shaped, others were rounder and others somewhere in between, but they smelled amazing and were sweet and juicy. So, I bought a few pounds and intended to eat half out of hand and make some peaches and cream combo with the rest.

First up was the ice cream. I broiled a few peaches, cut side up until fairly dark and burnished. I pureed those into a classic custard ice cream base along with a few tablespoons of Maker’s Mark bourbon. This made some fantastic burnt peach-bourbon ice cream. I blanched a couple more peaches for a few seconds just to loosen the skin and then peeled them and sliced them into large segments. These were tossed with a little Turbinado sugar so they could macerate for a while before serving.

For a crunchy sweet component I made streusel shards or cookies. This is basically classic streusel made with butter, flour and almonds. Instead of sprinkling it on top of some fruit and baking it like that I spread it in an even layer on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. I topped that with another baking sheet and baked the mixture. As soon as it’s out of the oven and before it turns too hard, I cut it into rough circles with a cookie cutter.

We are in the middle of cherry season and the fruit is delicious, goes great with peaches and is very reasonably priced. So I macerated cherries in red wine, very much like the ones from the calf heart confit dish. I used a portion of their sweet syrup to make a delicate whipped topping. That’s done by mixing the syrup with a little gelatin, pouring it into an iSi canister and charging it with two NO2 cartridges. The NO2 gives the syrup the “foaming action” but without some structure we won’t end up with nice blobs of tasty cherry flavored whipped topping. We’ll more likely end up with something closer to a soda foam. That’s why the gelatin is there. It sets the mixture slightly and gives it the proper texture. In addition to the cherries and whipped cherry topping I also made some plain, lightly sweetened whipped cream. Afterall, this is peaches and cream.