Have you ever had an idea that you can’t quite seem to make real? For me, it’s a frequent occurrence. Usually with a recipe idea but it could really be anything – an outfit, a paint color for a dining room wall, I suppose even song lyrics. Your idea seems to make so much sense in your head but then when you try to make it real, put it to paper, something just doesn’t look right, tastes off, or sounds different – just wrong in every possible way. This tart was like that for me.
It started with a story. In the car one day, I heard pastry chef Gesine Bullock-Prado on the radio talking about this plum tart her mom used to make. It was a highly emotional thing, as dishes with deep seeded memories can be and it was a lovely story. But my mind wandered off, conceptualizing this tart. I was driving around, trying to cram too much into too little time; half listening while simultaneously creating mental checklists and most certainly not paying enough attention to the road or my fellow drivers. The tart had a strange, long German name I couldn’t remember later, much less spell. But I had a mental image: a deep fluted tart packed with Italian prune plums, barely pitted, and crammed in upright pattern. In the few nooks and crannies was a bit of almond cream and the whole thing baked into a deep purple beauty. My concept was a wonderful thing. It was also, it turns out, far from reality.
But I persevered. A good idea is a hard thing to veer from and it didn’t seem too hard. Good tart crust, well chilled. As many nearly whole plums as the pan could hold on a bed of almond cream. Well, I thought wrong. The first attempt was a disaster – too wet, too loose in the center. It was best suited for the bottom of the waste bin. The next attempt wasn’t much better. Trash again. A few adjustments and the third went into the oven. Just as bad. My garbage can quickly filled with my misery.
Frustrated, I shelved the idea; moved the recipe into the “needs more work” file that was full of ideas that hadn’t quite worked out. Yet. Plum season ended and I moved on to other things. Nearly a year later, I heard that interview again but this time, I paid close attention. Back home, I found the link and read more about this tart called Zwetschgendatschi. No wonder I couldn’t remember it the first time.
Turns out, I’d misheard the part about the plums while I rushed forward to mentally create this impossibly perfect tart. Shocker. In real life, they were whole but rather than standing the little beauties upright, packed in tight circles, they’re opened like a book. That explains a lot of my problems – too much fruit and not enough exposure to the heat created a lot of moisture with nowhere to go. I’d become uncommonly adept at baking soupy mushy tarts. So I tossed out my previous recipes and reset myself to zero. I started again with the elements I liked: deep dish tart pan, sweet crust, almond cream, a good amount of plums and streusel, for a nice crunchy top. Rather than leave the plums whole, I tightly shingled the halves, packing them in on top of a light layer of almond cream to soak up any excess juices.
I felt good about this one but was still a bit anxious for it to come out of the oven. The timer went off and immediately, I knew I was onto something. With a few adjustments, I nailed it in two tries. Tart-sweet plums encased in an almond-y batter with the sweet crunch of an easy streusel topping. And while I still have that idea of a whole plum tart mentally filed away, this one is pretty good if a little different from my mental ideal.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: STELLAR. Getting this right, even in its altered state, after so many failures was immensely satisfying. But even better was sending it off into the world for others to enjoy. The first version was for friends during a weekend getaway and they loved it. The second version went to some co-workers and they demolished it with a frightening speed. I was a little afraid they’d eat the box too. So yeah, I’d say it’s pretty good.
On this blog five years ago: Empanadas – Lamb Potato & Chard and Wild Mushroom & Goat Cheese, Confessions of a Cookbook Addict, Chilled Cavillion Melon Soup
On this blog four years ago: Peach Pandowdy
On this blog three years ago: Tomato Confit, Easy Cold Melon Soup
On this blog two years ago: Fig BBQ Sauce
On this blog last year: Tomato Chile Jam, Yunnan Pineapple & Green Tomato Salad
DEEP DISH PLUM ALMOND TART
Makes one 9” deep dish tart
Almond flour, almond meal and ground almonds are one in the same but there are two kinds available to the home cook – with or without the skins. I’ve made it with both and it doesn’t really matter which you use. Bob’s Red Mill has a lovely blonder version made from skinless – or blanched – almonds but it can be pricey. Upwards of 13 dollars or more for a pound. Trader Joe’s sells a very good quality almond meal with the skins on so it makes a darker colored tart, however, its more affordable – in the $5 range. Use what you can find, what your budget allows and most importantly, what’s fresh. Nut flours, like nuts, can go rancid over time so buy from a retailer with high turnover and store any leftovers in the freezer, tightly wrapped.
For the tart dough:
1 ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 ½ Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
9 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
2 large egg yolks
1 Tablespoon cold water
for the filling:
2 cups almond flour
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar
heaping ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
9 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
1 large egg
1 pound firm-ripe Italian, prune or Angeleno plums (about 10), pitted quartered
for the streusel:
1 ½ Tablespoon melted butter
1 ½ Tablespoon sugar
1 ½ Tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
- For the tart dough: add the flour, salt and sugar to the workbowl of a food processor and pulse once or twice to blend.
- Add the butter and pulse several times until it is the size of small peas.
- Blend the egg yolk and water, add to the workbowl with the flour/butter mixture and process until blended.
- Turn the pastry dough out onto a work surface and knead just until all the dry bits are incorporated.
- Pat into a flat disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate ½ hour.
- To assemble: on a lightly floured work surface, unwrap the chilled dough, lightly flour the top and roll to a 14” circle. Keep the dough moving and lightly floured to prevent sticking.
- Roll the dough up on the rolling pin and unroll gently into a deep-dish 9” tart pan with a removable bottom. If you have tears, do not fret – simply pinch, push and patch the dough where you need it. If the dough isn’t chilled or if your kitchen is hot – something that especially plagues me – it’s ok. The dough can be pushed and pinched into place if rolling becomes a nightmare. Take care to make certain your crust is an even thickness all the way around and the area where the pan sides meet the bottom isn’t overly thick.
- Place on a parchment lined sheet pan and chill while you prepare the plums and the almond filling.
- For the filling: Pulse almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor until well blended (take care not to over process the mixture can get oily). Transfer to a bowl. Place 1/3 cup of this mixture in a separate small bowl and set aside.
- In the same processor – don’t bother washing – combine the butter and egg until smooth.
- Add the larger measure of almond/sugar mixture and pulse until evenly combined.
- Remove the chilled tart from the refrigerator and evenly spread approximately 4-6 Tablespoons of the almond filing on the bottom. You need just enough to make a nice, even thin layer.
- Arrange the plums cut side down with a slight overlap, over this thin layer of filling, in shingled circles filling the pan.
- Top the plums with remaining almond filling. Gently spread to an even layer with a small offset spatula, taking care not to dislodge the fruit.
- Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°
- Remove the tart from the refrigerator and bake for 30 minutes.
- For the streusel: combine the reserved 1/3 cup almond/sugar mixture with the melted butter, sugar and flour. Mix with your fingers into clumps. Refrigerate until needed.
- After 30 minutes, emove the tart from the oven, reduce the oven to 325°F and sprinkle the streusel on top, breaking up any overly large clumps.
- Cover the tart edges with small strips of foil to prevent further browning and bake for an additional 20 minutes until the filling puffs and is golden but still slightly soft in the center.
- When tart is done, turn off the oven and prop the door open. Cool in the oven for 15 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. When cool enough to handle, remove the outer ring of the tart pan.
- The tart is best served the day it’s made but holds up pretty well for an additional day or two if tightly wrapped and held at room temperature.