Photo by Judith Hausman
A simple butter cake or tart topped with glistening, blue plum slices may be the dessert I like best; well, maybe it’s a tie with an apple pie. While I’ve also made great jam and liqueur from Italian plums, I love how the tartness of the plums balances with the richness of the pastry in baking. Baking softens plums’ texture and caramelizes their sweetness, too.
Some of you may be familiar with Marian Burros’ legendary plum torte from the 1980s, which was re-printed in The New York Times yearly for ages. I make her plum torte nearly every year myself with a variety of fruit and a little less sugar. This recipe is from my Aunt Nancy though, and it also works equally well with other fruit, such as blueberries or apples. How could it be bad, actually? It’s butter, sugar and eggs crowned with local, seasonal fruit. Whipped cream, crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream can gild the lily.
You’ll end up with three orphaned egg whites in this recipe. Make a set of meringues with them. Or freeze them for future soufflés.
Aunt Nancy’s Plum Pastry
- ½ pound butter (2 sticks), softened
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 1/3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- dash of salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons cream or sour cream (or Greek yogurt, even)
- 1 egg white
- about 18 plums, cut in quarters
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients combining until smooth. Now you can chill the dough briefly to make it easier to work with or just go ahead, dampening your fingers a little to prevent sticking. Press the dough to about ½-inch thickness in a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined, small/10 x 9-inch jelly roll pan (a baking sheet with an edge) or a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. It’s fine if it doesn’t fill either pan.
Beat the egg white a little and brush it onto the pastry. Press the quartered plums gently into the dough in rows. Mix together the other topping ingredients and sprinkle the mix on top of the fruit heavily. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 to 50 minutes. Cool and cut into serving sizes as you like. Makes about 16 generous servings.