I recently became the proud owner of a pile of mirabelle plums. They looked so cute – a rich golden colour, tinged with crimson, and the size of cherries.
They are the sort of fruit that you can pop into your mouth one after another, absolutely delicious and so sweet. The sort of fruit that is also lovely in a tart!
After eating a couple of them, an odd thought struck me too – as sweet and sunny as they were, this was also another sign that summer is drawing to an end. Sure, we’ve been drenched recently, and at work we have gathered around the window a couple of times to debate if it is raining or sleeting. But then, the next day, the weather improves and we enjoy a couple of warm September days.
While the weather is busy flip-flopping, and I am debating whether it’s a day for just a shirt or full winter jacket plus scarf, there is no doubt that the new produce in the shops does mark the steady march towards Autumn. You know that before long, the mornings will be getting cooler, the evenings longer and darker, and those occasional downpours will go from the exception to the norm.
I do actually very much like Autumn – there are few things that can beat a walk in the woods with the leaves turning, especially the damp forest smell of wet leaves in cool sunlight. So as we move into this season, here is a little tart to celebrate the last of the summer goodies.
This really is a very simple version of the classic French dessert. There are a few different versions, ranging from something akin to a clafoutis (just drown the plums in custard and bake), to pastry shells with varying amounts of fruit and custard, to simple galettes with sliced plums arranged on puff pastry and permitted to shine without much additional fuss other than a light sprinkling of sugar.
This version involves a pastry shell, but I have used a high proportion of butter and a little baking powder, which makes it very light and crumbly, more like a shortbread than a pastry. This balances the filling – sweet, juicy mirabelles, enrobed in a custard-like filling of cream, sugar and eggs. To complement the plums, I added the lightest hint of vanilla extract and almond extract. Completely optional, but they add a nice background note. If you do add them, use with restraint – too much will overpower the fruit.
Of course, mirabelles are not a very common fruit in Britain, so the chances to make this tart will be rather limited. However, fret not. I would be willing to bet that this would also work very well with cherries. But no promises – I’ve yet to try that variation.
This recipe relies on the fruit to provide sweetness – if you prefer your desserts to be on a scale than induces a sugar rush, then by all means tweak the quantities in the custard filling. Also do taste the fruit – it the plums are not so sweet, then add more sugar. Spices may also work rather well – a touch of cinnamon or cloves, each of which goes wonderfully with plums.
To finish the tart, you can either leave it as it is or dust very lightly with icing sugar. This works really well, as where the plums as peeking out of the filling, the sugar dissolves, showing off the bright orange colour of the fruit.
Ah yes, oranges and golden browns. These are shades that we will be getting very familiar with over the coming weeks. Autumn is almost here, so time to dig out the scarves, winter jackets and gloves, and start enjoying long walks in the forest. And look forward to a slice of tart when you’re back indoors.
To make a tarte aux mirabelles:
For the pastry:
• 150g butter, cold
• 250g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 75g icing sugar
Cut the butter into cubes. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour and baking powder until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the icing sugar. Keep working until the mixture forms a soft dough – if necessary, add teaspoons of ice-cold water to help the mixture bind.
Wrap the pastry in cling film and leave to chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out the chilled dough and use to line a 20cm (8 inch) loose-bottomed flan dish. As the pastry is very buttery, you might find you end up cutting it into pieces, then patching it together in the tin and pressing together with your hands. Try to get the pastry to just over 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick – you probably won’t need all of it.
Prick the base with a fork, and bake in the oven at 180°C for 10 minutes.
For the filling:
• 500g mirabelles, washed and de-stoned (*)
• 100ml double cream
• 25g ground almonds
• 100g soft brown sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• 25g butter, melted and cooled
• few drops of vanilla extract
• few drops almond extract
Arrange the de-stoned mirabelles in the pastry shell.
In a bowl, mix the remaining ingredients until the mixture is smooth. Pour over the fruit. Bake for a further 30 minutes at 180°C (350°F) until golden on top.
(*) To de-stone: either cut in half and remove the stones, or use a cherry pitter to remove the stones. Or alternatively, leave the stones in and warn your guest to eat with caution!
Worth making? I won’t lie – de-stoning mirabelle plums is not much fun, but this is actually a relatively simple tart to make, and one which does look great when served. The whole plums peeking out of the filling also look very impressive.