Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tarte Aux Prunes (Plum Tart) from Liège

For over 20 years, I've been putting this recipe on hold before trying it out. I'm not sure why I never made the attempt since the last time I fell in love with it when I was in Belgium, 20 years ago. Since I started the blog back in 2007, it never crossed my mind to try the recipe out. I had even lost the recipe. Back in the 80s when I was much younger, my family and I were touring Europe to visit relatives. When we stopped by Liège in Belgium, to see my uncle, his wife and their 2 year old son, we were welcomed with a great dinner but the highlight of the meal was this incredibly juicy and tangy plum tart. My aunt had reserved it for us from a local patissier (bakery) and I was immediately love-struck. Love always comes unexpectedly.

It was such a pivotal point in my life when my love for eating and trying good food started to peek. My aunt served everyone a nice slice each of this luscious tart. I remember the moment I bit into the first slice... how fresh, juicy and tasty it was. It still feels like yesterday. Every morsel was juicy, tangy, plump....just divine. My attention was entirely drawn to this tart. Being very shy with people back then, I coyly asked for another slice right after I finished my first one. My "gourmandise" came hand in hand with my shyness, as it comforted me from my insecurities. No one seemed to have noticed as I ate my way through the entire pie. In fact, my uncle and aunt looked so pleased that I was enjoying the plum tart so much. One slice was enough for my parents and my brother. As for me, it was just the beginning. After my second slice, I was in heaven again. My relatives couldn't help but chuckle when they saw my googly eyes focusing on this delicacy. One slice after the next, I ended up eating the entire tart! I guess, at a subconscious level, I had already decided that I was going to finish it the moment I layed eyes on it.

That moment became a well-remembered story in our family. My cousin, who was almost 2 years old back then and is now a grown up man, moved to Montreal this Spring to seek career opportunities in Montreal. We're getting to know each other better as we hang out with my brother and our other cousins. During one of our lunch time conversations, my cousin and I started talking about the famous 'tarte aux prunes' story. My cousin had heard about it so many times from different people but hadn't heard it from the one person who experienced it. Me. I finally told him the story. He asked me if I ever tried the recipe his mother had sent me by post years ago. I told him that I never did and had lost it over the years. And fortunately, with emails, our main method of communication nowadays, my cousin contacted his mother and got me the recipe again! When I first read it a couple of weeks ago, I felt something was missing. The recipe sounded dry. But my cousin confirmed to me that it was the complete recipe and that if i wanted to moisten the tart, to add a little bit of milk or water. Still, it didn't sound right. So, I tried it out that same week and followed the directions to a tee. As anticipated, the pie didn't turn out the way I had remembered it. It was still good and tangy, but very dry just as I had predicted. Then, my cousin and I both thought that was probably because the ingredients vary in certain countries. The plums I had were not the Altesse plums, famously known in Liège, but regular north american plums . Mind you, the plums I had picked were not the most ripe, but even if they were to ripen more, I couldn't see how they would make the tart juicier. I wasn't going to give up, so I sat one evening trying to figure out how to make this delicious dessert plump and juicy.

And waddya know, as I was lying on my bed one night, it just hit me. Ideas were running through my mind and couldn't stop. I had a hard time falling asleep because I was so excited to put my ideas to the test. The next morning, I was off to the market. Because I couldn't find the right plums, I decided to modify the recipe a little and create my own "nappage" (topping or glaze). The original recipe called for a mixture of a little bit of water and sugar to make a syrup. That was the part that gave me a bit of trouble, at first. But after thinking this through, I said "of course!". To make a syrup I would need to extract the natural juices of the plum. And what better way to get the juices from the plum and to moisten the plums while they bake, is to poach the plum! And it worked. During the poaching process, which took no more than 5 minutes, I could see the red juice dispersing throughout the water. I made sure not to overcook the plums since I didn't want to end up with a jam-like texture, but wanted to obtain soft but plump plums. The plum juice and natural sugars created a red colour and a tangy syrup. To thicken it a little more, I whisked in a little bit of cornstarch. The verdict? A magnificent tangy and luscious plum tart. On the first successful attempt, I used a premade frozen flaky pie crust from Tenderflakes. Last week, I made it again, this time with a homemade "pâte sablé", also known as a crumbly crust. It tastes just like a lightly sweetened cookie. This time, the pie was just as I remembered it when I was in Belgium.

Surprisingly, the pie crust preparation was a cinch. The extra 5 minute process is well worth it.
There are 3 easy steps.
Preparation time : 30 minutes, Baking time : 30-40 minutes
Recipe "au pif":

3 fresh ripe plums ( preferably Altesses from Liège), pitted and sliced thinly (about 1/2 inch thick)
1 tbsp raw can sugar (optional)
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
Poaching the plums:In a large deep sauce pan, lay the plum slices and add in water just enough so that the plums are covered right at the surface. Sprinkle the sugar over the plum (again optional).

Bring to a boil to poach the plums. This will extract the juices and the natural sugars of the plums, making a redish syrup.

The plums should be ready after 5 minutes or after the plums have softened a little and the water has a redish tint. Make not to overcook the plums so that you don't end up with a jam-like texture, but with soft and plump plums.

Remove the plums and set aside.

Turn off the heat and slowly whisk in the cornstarch until you've reached a smooth texture and no lumps are formed. The cornstarch will thicken the juice giving it a syrup-like texture.

Pie/tart crust ingredients:
flaky pie crust, frozen, defrost over the counter for about 20 minutes
or follow these instructions:
150 g all purpose flour
100 g softened butter or margarine
1 whole egg
milk, to moisten
sugar to sweeten a litte (optional)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Preheat oven at 340F
Mix all pie crust ingredients in a medium salad bowl. Knead well and moisten if necessary with a bit of milk. Set aside and let it rest to rise. Chill in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This will make the dough easier to work with when rolling it flat.

Flatten the dough with a roller until it is about 1/4 inch thick and large enough to fill out a baking pan.

With the roller, lay the pie crust over your baking pan and trim out the longer edges.

Using a fork, poke a few holes across the dough (homemade or the defrosted pre-made dough) and bake for about 5 minutes until the pie crust is slightly golden

Making the pie:
Lay the plum slices in the pie crust starting with the center working your way out in a spiral motion. Fill in any spaces between slices with as many plum slices leftover, as you can. The more fruit, the better!

Slowly pour in the plum syrup evenly over the plum slices.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until the edges of the pie crust is nice and golden.

Serve warm or chill for about 1 hour before serving.

Can be served with a dollop of whipped cream or crème chantilly.

Serves 4-6 people, or....1 if you're as gourmande as I am!
Share and enjoy!


Doreen said...

My husband and I were looking for a plum tart recipe and yours caught his eye. We really liked your story of the first time you enjoyed it with your family, it was very reminiscent of some of our family experiences. I didn't have any problems making it, the dough came together easy and the fruit filling was easy also. The only mistake I made was using plums that were not very tasty,I'm going to try it again with French plums sometimes called Italian prunes that are in season and local.

QlinArt said...

I'm really glad you liked it! Yes, the plums have to be ripe and sweet. You can remedy that by poaching the plum slices in water and sugar for 4-5 minutes, but they can't turn out too soft and mushy.

Yoko Rizzo said...

Summer here in Northern California means a huge abundance of pluots and stone fruit at the farmers market. I got bored of making crisps all the time so I was looking for a tart recipe, but one that's still just as juicy and bubbly as a crisp. So your recipe was a godsend :) I made the crust gluten-free and put a bunch of different pluots and berries in the filling. The tart is so so good..the pluots are just the right firmness and tartness, and the sweet crust balances everything out so nicely. I think I'll join you in the finishes-whole-tart-alone club :) Thank you for the recipe!!

QlinArt said...

Thank you for the kind words. And I'm glad you enjoyed it!