My Italian plum reverie stems from three places.
One, a poem. I first read it in college, and then in graduate school, and then heard it recited with some devotion—nearly like a prayer—by my sister over the years every early fall, when the plums are here. The poet, William Carlos Williams, was also a doctor (what boldness, his parents giving him the same first and last name. Not unheard of in my family, either…). Perhaps it was all of the x-rays he looked at that inspired his imagist poetry, but somehow he married his right and left brains with breathtaking agility. Not unlike my sister, who keeps a striking array of interests in play, from the lawyerly-heavy to, well, reciting plum poetry.
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
Two, a Chicago food truck. Very long before cupcakey, lunchy food trucks were the thing, there was a food truck that flanked the entrance to the Lincoln Park farmer’s market in my neighborhood. It wasn’t really a food truck per se, but a fantastic pop-up trailer sort of thing that sold pastry and breads. More old school than new. This was before there were many stalls at the market that offered anything but produce or flowers, so the sweets were a stand-out. I couldn’t head into or out of the market without stopping for something, a something that was always, once I discovered it, a slice of plum tart.
The plums, when baked, became something entirely irresistable, a jammy sweet-tart bite not unlike other baked fruits, but the plum just offered such a perfect balance. The pastry was not too sweet, which made it seem perfectly appropriate for breakfast. My version, this custardy plum tart, is just like that. Perfectly appropriate for breakfast, justified by the fact that at its heart is eggs and prunes, and it’s only eaten when Italian plums are in season. So it’s ok.
Three, a spread in Saveur. Long time ago. This one was about a grape harvest in Beaujolais, France, where a big huge sheet pan filled with a custardy plum tart, Tarte au Quetsches, was served to the harvesters for lunch. They also ate little French green lentils dressed with Dijon, a recipe so good I also made it my own; when I shared it with you here, I felt bad about holding out on the tart.
Plum Custard Tart
The crust is the same one I use for the amazing chocolate caramel pecan tart we all love so much. I don’t roll the dough out, but rather chill it in a block and slice it to push into the pan (see more on this method here). This recipe is adapted from Saveur, and makes one rectangular (about 13 inches) or one 9-inch round tart, using a removable-bottom tart pan.
For the crust:
1 2/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Pinch of salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the filling:
6-8 prune plums (quantity depends on plum size)
3 tablespoons sugar (or agave syrup)
1 ½ tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons 2% or whole milk
Blend the flour, sugar, almonds and salt in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground. Using on/off turns, cut in the butter until a coarse meal forms. Add the egg and blend just until dough sticks together when pinched. Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. Gather the dough into ball with the paper; flatten into a rough rectangle 1-inch thick, wrap, and chill 1 hour.
Line the bottom of the tart pan with parchment paper. Cut the dough into 1-inch slices. Lay the slices in the bottom of the pan and push them together, closing all fissures completely. Line the edges of the tart with slices of dough placed horizontally around the fluted edges. Press this dough into the bottom of the crust, closing all fissures, and into the fluted rim edge. Refrigerate for a few minutes while making the filling.
Preheat oven to 375˚F, positioning a rack in the top third of the oven.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar, flour, cream and milk until smooth. Halve the prunes lengthwise and pit them.
Line the bottom of the tart pan with parchment. Remove chilled pastry dough from the refrigerator and line the pan with the plums, cut side down, two by two in the rectangular pan and in concentric circles in a round pan.
Arrange plums, cut side down, in a single layer inside pastry shells. Pour custard over plums.
Carefully transfer tart to the oven and bake until plums are soft and top of custard is golden, about 45 minutes to one hour. Transfer tart to a rack to let cool for about 15 minutes before removing the tart from the pan. Cool completely before serving.
Print this recipe here.