Reine Claude plum tart with marzipan sauce

reine claude plum tart-6
There is a moment each summer, right at the height of it, when you first realize it won´t last forever. When it comes to food, at least to me, that moment is marked by the appearance of the plum. For someone who grew up in Germany, plum cakes belong to late summer days like thunderstorms, my birthday and the very first fallen leaf you spot on the ground.

The plum cakes of my childhood were simple, rustic tray bakes or tarts, covered with streusel and flaked almonds, and crowned with dollops of whipped cream on a special day. If I was very lucky, there was some marzipan involved in the topping, adding a hint of almondy sweetness to the fruit that, in some German summers, would have gained from an extra dose of sunshine. In exchange, the acidic plums tame the sweetness of the marzipan – a win-win of flavors to say the least, a heavenly match if you ask me.

reine claude plums-2Those kind of memories came to my mind when I brought home the first plums a few days ago: Yellow and red ones, as well as the green Reine Claude plums (greengages) that turned out the most succulent of the three and thus seemed best for what I had thought of. The idea being a tart and a marzipan sauce to be drizzled on top, I wanted a not so sweet, but flaky crust which is always a compelling case for using salted butter.

Disappointingly, but then again not so surprisingly for a first try, the flavors didn´t really melt together. A modification of the crust seemed quite promising, but the solution was found in a jar of apple compote sitting in the fridge, waiting in vain for my son to eat it. He had requested it the day before, and since he´s such a proud kitchen apprentice these days, dicing and slicing so eagerly with one of the not so sharp kitchen knifes, I couldn´t say no. And luckily, I didn´t. A layer of the compote underneath the plums (that aren´t baked, by the way) added fruitiness and went so well with the salted butter, the sourish plums and the sauce – just what was missing.

reine claude plum tart-5Reine claude plum tart with salted butter crust & marzipan sauce
You will need:
for the crust
250 g flour
1 egg
1 tbsp rum
50 g confectioner´s sugar
125 g cold salted butter, cubed
pinch of ground cinnamon

Apple compote:
3 apples, cored, peeled, diced
2-3 tbsp sugar
pinch of ground cinnamon

for the marzipan sauce
20 g flour
20 g unsalted butter
200 ml milk
2 egg yolks
75 g marzipan, grated
5 drops vanilla essence
2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur

and 800-900 g plums (I used Reine Claudes/greengages), sliced

1. Crust:
Combine all ingredients for the crust until you obtain a homogenous dough. Cover with cling film and leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.

Butter your tart pan. Roll out pastry and line the pan. Cut off excess pastry. Cover pastry with parchment paper and add oven proof weights. Blind bake pastry shell for 18-20 minutes, until slightly golden.

Take tart shell out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire wrack.

2. Apple compote:
In a small saucepan, heat apple chunks with sugar and cinnamon over low to medium heat, checking from time to time so they don´t burn. When soft enough (after about 20 minutes, depending on chunk size), mash apples with the back of a fork or using a potato masher. Leave to cool. Makes 1 small jar.

3. Marzipan sauce:
Grate the marzipan. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Gradually add flour (preferrably sifted), whisking away to avoid lumps. Pour the milk, still whisking. Reduce heat to medium low and allow mixture to thicken like a custard. Stir in the egg yolks one by one, then the Amaretto and vanilla essence. Reduce heat to low, add the grated marzipan and stir until dissolved. Leave to cool.

4. To assemble:
Once tart shell and sauce have cooled, slice the plums vertically, discarding the inner part with the kernel. Place tart shell on a serving plate. Spread a layer of apple compote, keep the rest for later use. Arrange plum slices in a concentric manner, working your way to the center.

Serve with a good drizzle of marzipan sauce.

reine claude plum tart-7

Crème vichyssoise

Crème vichyssoiseAugust is very quiet here in our little corner overviewing Paris. Kids don´t have school yet, and most people are spending their holidays out of town. As a consequence, for the time of les vacances, part of the public life seems to be in a state of estival sleep. Many small shops are closed, including the local cheesemonger´s, the butcher´s, and all of my favorite bakeries, which makes it really hard to get a decent baguette every day – une grande catastrophe for me. One shouldn´t even think of calling a public office or a craftsman, because unless it´s a case of live or die, you will be told everything will be fixed après la rentrée, meaning … not until September.

With the great weather we´ve had last week, I have been slightly infected with that siesta mode all around me, which triggered a certain craving for the classic French summer soup, just right for a lazy summer day: Crème Vichyssoise. This chilled leek and potato soup is something like the French version of Gazpacho, less fashionable perhaps and not as temperamental, but garnished with a little Proustian touch I tend to find quite charming.

As the story goes, crème Vichyssoise was created at the Ritz-Carlton in 1917 by French chef Diat who was homesick at the time, longing for France and the dishes from childhood days.  He cured himself making his grandmother´s leek and potato soup and called it la Vichyssoise, named after his grandmother´s home town Vichy. Comfort food obviously worked long before it was called like that.

Vichyssoise ingredientsCrème vichyssoise-2The Vichyssoise is served with chopped chives and a handful of homemade croûtons, and if you have some cooked prawns, throw them in, too – it´s extra delicious!

Crème Vichyssoise (serves 4):
3 medium potatoes (700 g), peeled and cubed – floury variety
3 leeks, white parts only, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs thyme
1-1.2 liter vegetable or chicken stock
butter for frying

to serve:
crème fraîche, about 100 g
chopped chives
some shrimp or prawns if desired

Peel and cube potatoes. Slice white parts of the leeks. Chop onion. In a large pot, melt butter and fry onions over medium heat for 2 minutes, add leeks and continue to fry until softened, but not browned, 3-4 minutes. Add potatoes, fry for another 2 minutes.

Pour stock, add herbs, and bring to a soft boil (vegetables should be just covered). Close lid, cook for 25-30 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Blend soup until velvety and smooth (take out the bay leaf and thyme sprigs). Leave to cool completely, .

To serve, divide soup in individual bowls. Add a dollop of crème fraîche, some croûtons (fried in butter and olive oil over medium heat), chopped chives and 1-2 cooked prawns if using. Serve chilled (but tastes very good warm, too).

vichyssoise &yellowhouse