Summertime Plums - Plum-and-Almond Tartlets
Plum-and-Almond Tartlets

At the peak of season right now, plums perfectly express their time of year. Like peaches, apricots and cherries, these stone fruits are so juicy that they seem meant to refresh us during the hot weather. And yet, plums combine the sweetness of their flesh with the sour bite of their skins, as if reminding us that this pleasurable season will soon be coming to an end.

I love to shop for plums in farmers' markets. Visit your own and you'll probably see many different varieties in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from little oval damsons with their deep blue skins to round, lime-colored Greengages to big, round purple plums with tiny yellow spots. And let's not forget the wonderfully named, delicious hybrids: plumcots (a cross between a plum and an apricot); pluots (plumcot-plum); apriums (apricot-plumcot); and a number of rarer crosses between plums and cherries. It's hard to tell them apart without a scorecard but all are delightful and worth trying if you come across them.

I enjoy them all, simply eaten after a quick rinse under the faucet. And I find it especially interesting to savor the distinctive flavors of different varieties -- and a special treat when I come across some with milder skins that don't make me pucker!

Tarter or sweeter as the plums you choose may be, they all become delightfully delicious when you turn them into pastries with my recipe for Plum-and-Almond Tartlets. Don't be put off by the idea of making pastries, though. This is the simplest of preparations, easy work that won't heat up the kitchen too much while delivering sensational results.

The tartlets begin with an easily prepared Almond Pate Sucre, a classic nut-enriched French pastry dough that takes minutes to prepare. You don't even have to form them into pastry shells; here, the dough bakes flat, like oversized cookies. (In fact, you might want to mix a double batch of the dough, roll up the other half into a thick sausage shape, and then wrap and chill it in the refrigerator, to slice and bake later as cookies.)

The next step is to prebake the rounds of dough and then top them with almond-egg-sugar cream and sliced fresh plums. Before they go into the oven, a final sprinkling of crystallized sugar, large granules that you'll find in specialty cookware and baking shops or well-stocked supermarkets, helps gives the tartlets a glistening finish.

Of course, the recipe can be varied as you like with other stone fruits, using sliced apricots or peaches (or save it for cherry season early next year). A great summer fruit dessert is really as simple as that, though a scoop of your favorite ice cream would be welcome, too.

Plum & Almond Tartlets

Makes 8 individual 5-inch tartlets


2 ounces whole unblanched almonds

1-2/3 cup all-purpose flour

6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 lightly beaten cage-free egg

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest


1 scant cup blanched almonds, about 5 ounces

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large cage-free eggs

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1-1/2 pounds organic plums

4 teaspoons crystallized sugar

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

At least 2 hours ahead, prepare the Almond Pate Sucre.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the almonds in a small baking dish and roast in the oven until fragrant and beginning to darken slightly in color, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Coarsely grind by pulsing in a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade, taking care not to grind to fine. Transfer to a medium bowl and combine with the flour. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl using a hand-held mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and zest. Add the flour-nut mixture and mix just until combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead into a ball. Flatten the ball into a small round, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

To make the tartlets, first preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, cut the chilled Pate Sucre into 8 equal pieces. On a floured surface and with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out 1 piece of dough into a 5-1/2-inch circle. (The dough breaks easily, but can also be pushed back together just as easily.) Using a 5-inch round such as a ring or plate as a guide, cut out a circle with the tip of a small, sharp knife; with a wide spatula, transfer to a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Then, bake until lightly golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.

For the filling, put the blanched almonds in a food processor with the stainless-steel blade. Pulse to make a fine meal, taking care not to overprocess into a paste. Transfer to a bowl. Add the sugar, eggs, and lemon zest and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Set aside.

Cut each plum in half. Remove the pits. Cut each half into 5 or 6 thin wedges, depending on size.

Divide the filling evenly among the tart pastries, spreading to leave a small border around the edges. Arrange the plum wedges in starburst patterns on top. Sprinkle lightly with crystallized sugar.

Return the tarts to the oven and bake until the plums are lightly caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Transfer to individual dessert plates and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with ice cream.


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