It's been a while since I wrote in more formal fashion about food, so I thought I'd give you a Thursday treat with this ode on the Plum Tart.
My anticipation is great, the sort of impatient eagerness than almost makes me feel testy. I repeatedly glance at the oven timer, as if monitoring its downward progression will hasten the delivery of dessert to my mouth. My swiveling head speeds nothing up except the thumping sensation behind my chest wall.
It's coming...it's coming...it's coming.
Each year, as the mangoes make their debut and the melons start to show themselves, as the sun warms longer and more intensely each day and wearing shorts becomes the rule rather than the exception, I start to think regularly about plums. Specifically, the critical role they play in Amanda Hesser's plum tart. I discovered this tart two summers ago, and during the plum seasons since suspect I've eaten an average of one tart per week. It's not exaggeration to admit that my passion for this perfect concoction borders on obsession.
This recipe is simple but sophisticated. Olive oil and a soupçon of almond extract in the crust elevate what is usually very tasty -butter and lard are, after all, often magical ingredients- into something sublime, lending both a heady fragrance and savory flavor that offset the sweet-tang of the plums in a truly magnetic way; my tongue doesn't want to, and indeed cannot, stop pleading for just one more bite.
In general, oil used as the fat in a dough makes it less pliable but unbelievably flaky. Butter yields flake too, but not in such a crisp, clean way. Butter is lazy and leisurely, like a wealthy woman atop a garden chaise; oil, on the other hand, cuts to the chase, a vixen in stilettos marching assertively across a hard floor.
I like both, but this tart may border on flaccid if it weren't for the oil. Oils I should say, for it calls for both olive and canola. My family pie crust, handed down through generations, uses canola oil only. You can't roll it out more than twice, but when you get the hang of it, you'll agree there's really no better crust for most pies.
In the same vein, I refuse to even consider that any other crust could adequately support a sweet plum filling the way Hesser's does. Indeed, I've declared myself happily at the end of this search; now I've years to simply enjoy the grail.
As the crust is elemental, so too is the plummy interior. Sliced plums, and over them, a bit of flour, some sugar, salt and butter. What looks like a large snowdrift atop a fruit pile cooks down into a bubbling, lava-like lagoon holding the fruit in gleaming suspension. The delicate wedges of plum appear to be jewels encased in a glassy pudding.
The dance between the primary actors is a seductive one, a flamenco on a dimly lit stage. And it's a show I'll enjoy again and again in the summery months ahead.
**Hesser calls for Italian prune plums; red and/or black plums also work wonderfully; rhubarb and velvet apricots (or, probably, regular apricots) are a divine combination as well! For the latter, use two stalks of rhubarb, thinly sliced, and 5-6 apricots.