Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Would Julia Do? A Plum Tart Story

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

Pastry
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

Clafoutis
10-12 firm, ripe Italian plums, sliced in half & pit removed
3/4 c milk
1/3 c AP flour, sifted
2 T sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350ยบ 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.
Press plums lightly into crust, cut side up. Gently pour clafoutis batter over plums filling in the cavities left by the pits first and then gently filling in the spaces in between.

Bake for 45-60 minutes or until clafoutis is set. Let cool slightly before lifting out of the tart tin to serve.

Enjoy!

18 comments:

  1. The plum tarts look great! I'm pretty sure Julia would approve.

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  2. Wow this really looks divine! I can't wait to try it myself, just hope it turns out half as gorgeous! I have a ton of those Italian plums, which I love, so this recipe looks perfect.
    Thank you!

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  3. Beautiful Post,

    I love the pictures, recipe and writing. You have mastered the trifecta with this post kid....Bravo, I hope to see more.

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  4. The plum tarts look great! Julia would be proud.

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  5. Gorgeous recipe and story. I remember watching Julia with my mom too... I sure wish we still still had her around!

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  6. It looks delectable! And I love the story that goes with it. :) As others have already pointed out, Julia would approve.

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  7. http://cowboycountryvegetarian.blogspot.com/October 30, 2011 at 10:28 PM

    Pictures are perfect. Thanks for sharing. I am big fan of Julia too.

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  8. It looks delicious and it's lovely that you had Julia in your life so early! It's funny - my girlfriend and I say the exact same thing...what would Julia do?!

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  9. This is so beautiful. Pastry cream is a bit intimidating to me. I guess Julia would just suck it up and try it out.

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  10. I love tarts and never made one, never too late to start, I'll try this one!! Looks delicious :)

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  11. We must be around the same age, I enjoyed watching her too. I love those plums you used, harder to find where I live, but when I do seem them I try and grab some. Beautiful tart!
    -Gina-

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  12. I love a good clafoutis and you just don't see them that often. This is beautiful!

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  13. What would Julia do? That is always an excellent question! This tart looks delicious!

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  14. I love plums and I love tarts--this looks super delicious!! I'm in love! :)

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  15. Julia would love this. Very French sounding, very elegant. This looks and sounds delicious :-)

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  16. That last picture looks amazing! Fruit tarts are always so elegant and tasty-yours looks the same.
    Never to old for culinary school, I read about a 60 year old that graduated and now works in a bakery!

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  17. This is simply gorgeous. It sounds like we both had the same thing for Julia. I couldn't wait to watch her. As soon as I finish my degree (currently a full time employee and a student...wow) my reward will be to do what I really want: culinary school. The thought of it is getting me through the next year and a half. I might just be the same age as Julia by the time I make it there. LOL. Again, this is top notch.

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  18. Thanks Grubarazzi! Culinary school was an amazing experience and I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's definitely expensive, though, and I truly never worked harder in my life. Physically and mentally exhausting. I guess that's why it's a young person's career. But - worth it for those with drive and determination.

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