Fresh Plum Tart – Gluten-free, Dairy-free


FOTCM Member
Ancient documents that date back to 479 B.C mention of plums, and around the same time period they were domesticated by Chinese. In fact, Confucius, who was a Chinese teacher, politician, and philosopher praised the taste of these sweet-tart flavoured fruits in several of his written works. Plum trees were first grown in the Middle East, in the area south of the Caucasus, which is situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The countries that it was grown in are now called: Armenia, Azerbaïdjan, Georgia, and the northern plateau of Iran. It is known that both the Romans and Egyptians enjoyed this small, tasty fruit, which they also dried. It is thought that plum tree plants were introduced into Europe by returning French Crusaders in the 12th Century from an unsuccessful foray to Damascus (apparently, there is a well-known French expression, a jibe really: ‘all that way just for some plums!’).

The term 'tart' occurs in the 14th century cookbook, Forme of Cury, which was a compilation of recipes, although the relevant recipes were for savoury items containing meat. However, note that a mixture of savoury and sweet items was quite common in medieval dishes. There was, however, a perceptible trend towards making and eating purely sweet tarts. In 1651, La Varenne's Cuisiner Francaise contained several savoury and sweet tarts. And, 18th century cookbooks often contained recipes for puddings that today would be classed as tarts.

Small prune plums are better than large for this particular recipe. They are common in this part of South-west France. Here, the type used is the Prune d’Ente. It was crossed with the prune trees brought back from Syria with local prune trees to create what was called the Ente prune. Once the trees became established in the well-adapted Southwestern France, the future dried Agen prune was born. The result is a heavier prune with a more delicate flavour than standard prunes. It is juicy, with a sweet honey flavour, and is good for use in both sweet or savoury recipes. Halion prune plumbs or blood plums are a good choice too.

This recipe is based on that given in Bruce Healy and Paul Buget’s book, Mastering the Art of French Pastry, (New York, Barron’s, 1984), for a Tarte aux Prunes. The prunes are first poached in a light syrup, before being placed on a French pastry cream, that is spread on top of a raw sweet crust type pastry shell, and then baked. The pastry cream is flavoured with Armagnac. Armagnac, which in the days before the French revolution was a region in Gascony, is in the west of the Occcitanie administrative region of France. It was the first place to start distilling spirits in 1310 when it was known, by the monks who made it, as ‘eau ardente’, or pungent water. Armagnac is a distinctive form of brandy that is a single distillation made in column stills, of a blend of white grapes grown in the local area. It is then aged in oak barrels to soften the taste and to develop complex flavours. It has an alcohol content of 52%. It is more fragrant and flavourful than cognac, which is double distilled in pot stills before aging. The French pastry cream is based on the use of Hemp milk, rather than dairy milk, for those who are lactose intolerant.

The fresh picked prune plums need to be prepared and poached ahead of the final assembly, as does the French pastry cream.

Sweet crust type Pastry dough shell
French Pastry cream
Poached plumbs
Superfine cane sugar

Day 0
First, poach the plums, followed by preparing the sweet crust type pastry dough, and finally make the French pastry cream.

Poaching the plums
Plums are very juicy, so it is necessary to poach them, even though it is just for a short period of time. If they are not poached it will take a lot longer to bake them so that they dry sufficiently.

Plums approx. 30
Cold water 500g
White wine 500g (Sauvignon was used in this case)
Cane sugar 600g
Lemon juice 1 lemon
Vanilla essence 1tsp

In a large saucepan (1), with a capacity of at least 4 litres, add the water and white wine, the cane sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla essence. Bring the mixture to a boil, ensuring that all of the cane sugar is melted.

Add the plus to the boiling syrup. Place a saucepan lid, that just fits inside the saucepan (2), or a round wire cooling rack that fits inside, on top of the boiled syrup and plums. This will ensure that the plums stay submerged.
Bring the syrup back to a simmer, then reduce the heat and continue to simmer very gently until the plums are softened and can be easily pierced with the tip of a skewer. Note however, the plums still need to be a little on the firm side, or on cooling in the syrup they will become too soft and turn to a mushy mess. The required simmering time for this type of plum was 7 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the syrup and plums cool overnight. Then the saucepan can be transferred and kept in the refrigerator until needed. The poached plums will keep in the refrigerator for between 3 – 4 days. Ensure that the plums are submerged in the syrup, and use clingfilm to ensure that the ‘submerging’ lid is covered airtight with the sides of the saucepan.

Preparing the sweet crust type pastry dough

Gluten-free pastry flour mix* 370g (enough for a 23cm (9in tart pan, and for leftovers)
Gum Arabic 2tsp
Salt 1/4tsp
Sugar 55g
Butter 205g (softened, room temp, cut in pieces)
Apple Cider Vinegar 1 1/2tsp (7ml)
Egg (slightly beaten) 100g (approx. 2 large – if necessary, add from another egg to make up weight)
Water (cold, if required) 5 – 10ml (1 – 2tsp)

*Gluten-free pastry flour mix: Brown rice flour 290g; Sweet rice flour 150g; Potato starch 75g; Tapioca starch 210g; Arrowroot powder; 35g. Total weight: 760g

Sift flour, add Gum Arabic and mix thoroughly in a bowl.
In a mixer bowl cream butter and salt, at a medium speed for ½ – 1min
Scrape down sides and bottom of mixer bowl; add sugar and combine at low speed for ½min
Add 50g flour, and combine at low speed.
Add Apple cider vinegar; gradually add slightly beaten eggs, and then 50g flour, beating at a low speed until the mixture comes together.
Gradually add rest of the flour, occasionally stopping the machine to scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl, restart and mix until the pastry dough comes together (and if necessary add 1 – 2tsp water, or, more likely, 1 - 3 tbsp of the flour mix (especially during the summer or when it is humid) and allow time to combine) – it may look bitty, will start to come together and clean the sides of the bowl, and will look shiny when handled and pressed together.
Lay a piece of cling film/plastic wrap on a pastry board, place the pastry dough on top of it, press into a ½in (13mm) thick rectangle and cover with cling film/plastic wrap
Chill pastry dough in a refrigerator overnight. The pastry dough will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, or in the freezer for 1 month (if you have frozen it, when you want to use it, take it out and let it rest for 1 hr to come to room temperature)

French Pastry Cream
(enough to fill the bottom of a 23cm (9in) tart pan)
Gluten-free Flour mix* 10g
Cornstarch 10g
Cane Sugar 64g (32g plus 32g)
Eggs 66g (1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk)
Hemp milk 250ml (60ml plus 190ml)
Butter 25g
Vanilla essence 1/2tsp
Armagnac 1 - 2Tbsp

In a bowl (1) add flour, Cornstarch, 32g Cane sugar, and mix. Add 60ml Hemp milk, eggs and whisk together to form a smooth, lemon coloured mixture (the flour and starch are used to bind and stabilize the custard mix).

In a saucepan (2) add 190ml Hemp milk, 32g Cane sugar, butter and vanilla essence. Stir together with a wooden spoon. Place over medium heat and bring to a fast simmer, yet avoid boiling.

Turn off heat. Slowly pour half of the hot milk mixture (2) into the egg mixture (1) and stir constantly with a wire whisk. Pour the resultant mixture (1) back into the saucepan containing the remaining milk mixture (2) and whisk to incorporate.

Turn heat back on to medium-low and stir the pastry cream mixture with a wooden spoon until it is thoroughly blended and smooth. Make sure that wooden spoon reaches everywhere - bottom, sides, and corners, so that the mixture does not burn. Keep the spoon in constant motion. Once you sense that the mixture is slightly thick on the bottom of the saucepan (look at bottom of spoon), remove it from the heat.

Off heat, continue stirring the pastry cream mixture for a further minute, until the mixture is thick, smooth and uniform (this allows a slow and even coagulation of the eggs and will produce a creamy texture).

Return the saucepan to the heat and bring the pastry cream mixture to the boil (to fully incorporate the cornstarch) whilst stirring constantly (this will inactivate the yolk amylase enzyme and will extract starch, and the egg proteins will bond strongly). Cook for a further 1 – 2 mins to overcome any resultant starch flavour.

Pour the pastry cream into a cold bowl (3) (otherwise the pastry cream will continue to cook) and place into a larger bowl (4). Fill bowl (4) with ice cold water to height where pastry cream bowl (3) just begins to float. Initially continue stirring, then stir only occasionally and minimally as the pastry cream cools (as stirring breaks developing starch networks, resulting in a thinner cream).

Once cool, and if not using immediately, cover surface with wax paper, or buttered parchment paper (this will ensure that the pastry cream does not form a skin). Refrigerate for up to 4 days. Pastry cream cannot be frozen, as the starch and protein bonds will break down. Also, in the process of defrosting, the pastry cream will weep, producing moisture, resulting in a runny, rather than stiff, consistency.

On the Day
Roll out the sweet crust type pastry dough into a shell that fits the tart pan, and then assemble the tart for baking.

Preheat the oven to 220C for 45 minutes.

Rolling out the pastry dough shell and lining the tart pan

When you take the dough out of the refrigerator, and before you begin to roll it, tap it a few times with the rolling pin, to begin to loosen it up).
Place a rectangular piece of parchment paper, at least 4in (10cm) larger than the tart pan, on top of a silmat, worksurface, or pastry board, dust evenly and lightly with flour, along with dusting the rolling pin. The parchment paper serves a couple of functions as will be explained later.
Cut pastry dough in two, in the proportions of two thirds to one third (place the one third portion (covered) back in the refrigerator); dust hands with flour; roll the dough into a ball and flatten, then roll the pastry three times in one direction, evenly, gently and briskly (i.e., confidently); rotate the pastry a ¼ turn (ensuring that the pastry is not stuck to the board, lift with your hands, turn over and re-flour if necessary); and repeat; and repeat until the pastry forms a rough circle at least 33cm (13in) in diameter and approximately 1/4in (5mm) thick (inevitably the dough will roll into an imperfect circle, and there will be cracks that have a habit of expanding as you roll – just trim off the excess and use to repair any areas short of the required size, press scraps into the gaps and roll in to get the required shape); repeat with the other thirds of dough, and remaining half. The scraps can be rolled up and re-rolled - the pastry is very forgiving – and used for repair work, or saved.

Now come the tricky parts, first, moving the rolled dough to the tart pan and fitting it in. Even with gluten flours this is tricky as the pastry will almost certainly crack – this is OK, it can be repaired. There are a couple of methods that can be used (the choice is up to you, both work).

Lightly grease, with well-softened butter, the tart pan and removeable base.

Moving method 1:
First, make sure that the base is central to the tart pan; place a tart pan and its removeable base, upside down, in the centre of the rolled pastry dough; keeping a firm hand on the pan and its base make a quick and confident flip over, and the pastry dough should droop into the centre of the right-side up tart pan; remove the, top parchment paper.

Moving method 2:
First, make sure that the base is central to the tart pan. Ensure that the parchment paper underneath the pastry dough is well floured and can slide about. Move it, and the rolled pastry dough over to the tart pan and base, holding one edge in your hand pull away the parchment paper with the other hand, and the pastry dough should slide off and droop into the centre of the tart pan, just make sure that the base is central to the tart pan before pulling away the parchment paper.

Fitting the pastry dough in the tart pan:
In one hand, gather the edges of pastry dough and move them inwards (to help the pastry dough droop even more into the tart pan) whilst pressing the dough into the bottom with the other hand; using your fingers move dough into the bottom edges of the ring so that there is a tight fit and work around the pan (inevitably the dough near the rim will begin to tear in some places, just reattach); press the dough to the tart pan sides. Fold over some of the dough to double the thickness of the sides, and smoothly press into the existing dough; using a paring (or narrow bladed) knife trim excess dough to leave a flat edge; where dough is missing, or does not reach the tip of the rim, roll/pinch together some of the excess dough and fit to cover gaps/make up thickness/reinforce the top edge, and smoothing it out; using the paring knife, or similar, slide the blade between the dough and the top of the tart pan side so that there is no dough on the edge of the rim (this will make it easier to lift the ring off the baked tart).

Prick the pastry base a few times (to stop the pastry base lifting it whilst baking).

Place the pastry dough filled tart pan, in a refrigerator for 30mins before baking (for the butter/pastry to harden).

Remove the pastry dough filled tart pan, from refrigerator. Take the bowl of French Pastry Cream out of the refrigerator, remove the covering, add the Armagnac, and whisk in to make a smooth cream.

Using a silicon spatula, fill the pastry dough shell with a layer of French Pastry Cream, use approximately 350g, and spread evenly over the base of the shell with a thin, offset metal spatula.

Take the poached plums out of the refrigerator and gently dry. Cut the plums in half and gently remove the stone, or pit. On top of the French pastry Cream, arrange the poached plum halves in a circle around the edge, cut side up, overlapping each other as they progress around to complete a full circle. Repeat with another circle inside of the other, and repeat until the tart is full of poached plums.

Place 2Tbsp (or, between 25-100g, depending on taste, but 2Tbsp should be plenty) superfine sugar in a small sieve, and dust the superfine sugar over the fruit.

Place the filled tart pan in the oven, and reduce the temperature to 200C.
Bake until the rim of the tart shell browns lightly, approximately 25 minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 180C, and continue baking for at least 20 minutes longer. The Plum tart is baked when the top of the French Pastry Cream is lightly browned.

Remove the Plum tart from the oven, if necessary, carefully separate the crust from the tart pan with the tip of a paring knife. Slide the tart pan onto a wire cooling rack. Carefully remove the tart pan rim. Let the Plum tart cool to room temperature before sliding the removeable base from underneath the tart, and slide the Plum tart onto a serving dish.

Top Bottom