Autumn tends to mean the end of most stone fruits, but it's when Italian plums are at their best. Also known as prune plums, Italian plums are less juicy than the black plums we see in the markets over the summer. They have a rather tart flavor that develops into a pleasing sweetness when cooked. Although I have a few favorite recipes using Italian plums I wanted something different from my usual, but with a couple of girlfriends coming over for tea I knew I wanted it to be elegant and appealing to the crowd. Enter Julia.
When I was a child staying home sick from school meant snuggling under the covers to sleep late, chicken soup and hot tea, and watching The French Chef on PBS with Mom. Later, when I started taking more of an interest in that special alchemy that turns brown paper bags of groceries into delicious dinners by candlelight Mom would tell me to reference Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I had a question. She taught me how to make creme patissiere from Julia's recipe (Vol I; p. 590) and after learning the secret of "the ribbon" we spent the summer between sophomore and junior year of high school making absolutely gorgeous fresh berry tarts.
When I left for culinary school Mom gave me her duplicate copy of Mastering, Vol I. My good friend Joanna mailed me Vol II as a good luck present. Throughout school whenever I wanted to double check a technique I would head straight for Mastering. During class, if my friend Amanda and I ever got stuck we would look at each other and ask, "what would Julia do?" When I would get discouraged at being "so old" to begin in the culinary field I reminded myself that Julia was 36 when she moved to France and began studying at the Le Cordon Bleu school (and 49 when Mastering was finally released). Even now when I begin to research recipes and methodology I almost always consult Mastering at some point along the way.
This tart, full of rich, ripe plums nestled amongst silky clafoutis in a crisp cookie-like pastry shell is an homage to that Grand Dame of both housewives and gourmandes - Julia.
Clafoutis Plum Tart
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol I (p. 633-34 & p. 655-57) by Child, Bertholle & Beck
1 cup AP flour, sifted
3 T sugar
5 T unsalted butter
1/4 c marzipan, room temperature
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
10-12 firm, ripe Italian plums, sliced in half & pit removed
3/4 c milk
1/3 c AP flour, sifted
2 T sugar
1 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 350º F
Combine sifted flour and sugar. With fingers combine butter and marzipan with dry ingredients until the dough resembles crumbs. Add vanilla and beaten egg. Toss with a fork to combine. Press pastry into a rectangular false bottom tart tin and cover with foil. Bake for 10 minutes.
While dough is par-cooking, make clafoutis.
Combine clafoutis ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until combined. The batter will be very thin. If you get lumps from the flour, strain the clafoutis batter through a fine mesh sieve before using.
Bake for 45-60 minutes or until clafoutis is set. Let cool slightly before lifting out of the tart tin to serve.