The Simple Art Of Cooking: The Joy Of Plums

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the plum, a sweet and juicy fruit, shares the name we use for special and favorably sweet situations.
This tasty fruit, native to Europe, China and North America where the climate is temperate, comes in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors. Some of the more familiar names in the marketplace are Green Gage, Damsons, Italian prune plums and Santa Rosa. Look for plums that are fairly firm to a slightly soft stage of ripeness with smooth flesh and even color. Avoid any plums with brownish color, which indicates deterioration and insipid flavor. The flavor of a good ripe plum has a luscious sweet/tart balance that distinguishes it as one of our finest stone fruits.

I fancy the idea of plums in a rustic tart or a plum topped cake. A free-form crust of pate brisee (pastry dough) coated with a layer of almonds and topped with sweet plum halves is delicious. The sugar plum cake incorporating a simple batter, topped with sugary plums and glazed with a fruit preserve is another beauty bursting with flavor.
To celebrate the sweetness of the Jewish New Year with the Yom Kippur holiday this coming week, either of these delectable fruit desserts would be nice to have around.

SUGAR PLUM CAKE
While the glaze is optional, it lends a sweet finish to  top the cake.
Serves 8

8 to 9 dark Italian Plums, rinsed, halved and pitted
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar depending on sweetness of plums
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Grated rind of 1 whole lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Glaze (optional)
3 tablespoons apricot or orange preserves
1 tablespoon orange liqueur or rum

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter an 8-inch round baking pan with removable bottom, and dust with unseasoned breadcrumbs.
1. Put plums in a mixing bowl, sprinkle on sugar and toss gently to mix.
2. Cut butter into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl or an electric mixer with paddle attachment. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat 2-3 minutes until smooth and thoroughly incorporated.

3. Sift flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder together and fold gently into egg mixture until thoroughly combined. Add grated rind and vanilla, and stir to mix.

4. With the aid of a rubber spatula, spread the fairly thick batter into prepared pan. Place sugared plum halves skin side up in one layer on top of batter. Place baking pan on a sheet pan then bake 25-30 minutes until top is golden brown and edges start to shrink from sides of pan, or insert a cake tester into center of cake until it comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes.

5. To remove cake from baking pan, loosen sides by drawing a kitchen knife between cake and sides of pan. Place a flattop cylindrical object such as a coffee can on work surface and place the baking pan on top. The metal ring will fall away. Transfer cake to a serving dish, and glaze top of cake (optional) or dust with confectioner’s sugar.
To prepare glaze: Warm apricot jam in a small saucepan and stir until softened. Remove from heat, add liqueur or rum and stir to mix. Spread glaze over top of cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.

PLUM TART
Serves 8 to 10

Prepare pate brisee (pastry dough) in the food processor. Gather into a ball, wrap in wax paper and chill in refrigerator for one hour or longer.

1 egg white, beaten
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons ground almonds
2 to 2 1/2 pounds large plums, halved, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch wedges
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons pear brandy or cognac
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving, optional

1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to a large cookie sheet. Prick the bottom of the shell with the tines of a fork and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes or longer.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Make the filling: Beat the egg white in a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup sugar and the ground almonds. Spread the mixture evenly over the dough to within 1 1/2 inches of the edge. Arrange the plum wedges in a circular fashion, beginning at the outside edge. Sprinkle remaining sugar over the fruit and dot with bits of butter. Bring up the dough and fold in the edges. Lightly brush edge with water.

3. Bake the tart on the middle shelf of the oven for about 50 minutes, until fruit is tender and pastry is brown and crusty. Some juices may leak onto the baking sheet—slide a knife under the galette to release it from the sheet.

4. Slide the tart onto a large wooden board, and drizzle the liqueur over the fruit. Can be prepared up to several hours or one day ahead. If prepared ahead, refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap. Cut the tart into wedges and serve at room temperature. Serve with dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Visit Silvia’s website at www.savoringthehamptons.com to read her blogs and more recipes.

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