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Plum tart raises fruit’s ‘wow’ factor

Freezing the season’s abundant plums buys me some time.

When the rush to pick garden produce, cook from our weekly CSA share and preserve the excess wanes, I can use my frozen cache of plums in a variety of ways. Homemade jam, particularly with star anise, is a strong contender.

I can also raise the fruits’ “wow” factor with a special dessert. Ordinarily, I’d be inclined to the convenience of frozen puff pastry and commercially prepared jam for a semi-homemade tart. I could go the extra mile to impress family and friends, though, with this more elaborate version from Tribune News Service.

Lemon is a family favorite and accents the plums as a shortbread crust. This method is fairly involved and could be accomplished in several stages over a couple of days — time allowing. The tart shell, itself, could even be frozen — well-wrapped — in anticipation of its marriage to previously frozen plums. Read more about pressing your freezer into service in my latest food section column.

Or make this recipe today with fresh Italian plums. They’re still in good supply at local grocery stores and some farm stands.

Tribune News Service photo

Plum Tart With Lemon Shortbread Crust

For filling:

1/3 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Pinch of kosher salt

1/4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

14 ripe Italian plums (about 1 1/2 pounds), each pitted and sliced into slender wedges

For tart shell:

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 -inch cubes; plus more softened for the pan

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons firmly packed, finely grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup and 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of table salt

2 tablespoons plum or peach preserves

To prepare filling, in a medium bowl, whisk 1/3 cup of the sugar with the cornstarch, kosher salt and lemon zest. Add the sliced plums and gently toss with your hands to evenly coat with sugar. Cover bowl and put in refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.

To make tart shell, lightly butter bottom and sides of a 9-1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Put butter cubes in freezer and, in a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla.

In bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and table salt; pulse a few times to combine. Add butter from freezer and pulse until mixture is crumbly and mealy, for about 25 short pulses.

Add egg yolk mixture and blend, using long pulses, just until it forms a moist, crumbly mass, for about 15 3-second pulses. Dough won't come together on its own, but it should hold together when squeezed.

Transfer dough to tart pan. Dip bottom of a flat-bottomed cup measure in flour and use it to press dough onto bottom and sides of pan in an even layer. Start with sides, which should be 1/4 inch thick. Reflour cup whenever it starts to stick to dough. Wrap pan in plastic and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

To blind bake tart shell, position a rack in lower third of oven and heat oven to 375 F. Unwrap tart shell and prick bottom and sides several times with a fork. Spray 1 side of a piece of parchment or foil with cooking spray.

Line shell with, sprayed side down, paper or foil and fill lined shell with pie weights or dry beans. Set tart pan on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove liner and pie weights. Should any dough stick to liner, peel it off and patch it back into shell.

Reduce oven heat to 350 F and continue baking until sides and bottom of shell are golden brown and dry, for 10 to 15 minutes more. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes.

To finish tart, drain plums in a sieve or colander set over a medium bowl for a few minutes.

Pour juice into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until very thick, for about 3 minutes. Scrape into a small bowl and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the preserves in saucepan over medium-low heat or microwave in a small bowl until syrupy. Pour preserves into tart shell and evenly brush them over bottom and sides. With a rubber spatula, spread plum juice over preserves on bottom of shell.

Starting at edge of shell, arrange plum slices cut side down and tightly overlapping in concentric circles. If you have more slices, keep tucking them in wherever they fit. You can also pile a few into center. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 tablespoon sugar over plums.

Bake tart in preheated oven directly on oven rack until plums are tender when poked with a paring knife and caramelized along their edges (a few tips may even blacken). Crust should be a deep golden brown, and any juices should be syrupy and bubbly, for 40 to 50 minutes. After you remove tart from oven, moisten plums by dipping a pastry brush into juices and brushing any surfaces that look dry.

Cool tart in its pan on a rack for at least 2 hours before unmolding and slicing with a very sharp knife.

— Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from finecooking.com