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A Plum Job

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Even with its juices bubbling out, this plum galette is beautiful.

The red plums this summer have been spectacular, so juicy and full-flavored, that I couldn’t let them go to waste. So, I set out to make a galette, which is a rustic, open-faced pie or pastry. The Italians call it croustade. I call it irresistible.

Yet I had never made one before and didn’t know where to begin. So, I searched through a host of recipes on the Internet and in various French/Italian cookbooks, hoping for a clue. I became more confused than when I had started.

It seems that you can use any kind of crust that you want, and the more you research the topic, the more suggestions you’ll find. Some call for regular pie crust, others for a shortbread pastry. A few want a cookie crust, others want puff pastry. None is wrong. It’s all a matter of what you want to bite into.

The filling is equally idiosyncratic, except for the general rule that your fruit should be at the center in concentric circles with the fruit peel facing up. Layering the plum slices proved to be fun, and the beauty of what you are preparing gives you a good feeling about what’s to come.

But what you do with that fruit is up to you.

The first version that I made was sort of a test-run. I used a pre-made  pie crust, which I rolled out to about 14 inches. Then I spread a mixture of flour, almond meal and 1 tablespoons sugar in a circle within 2 inches of the edges. I then layered the plum slices on top, starting from the center and working out. I sprinkled 1 tablespoon sugar over the top and dotted any slightly open sections between the fruit with slivers of butter. Then I sprinkled about 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract over the top. (That was 2 tablespoons sugar, as opposed to the 1/4 cup or more you’ll find in most recipes. If your fruit is ripe, you could use even less, as I did on the second go-round.)

With the filling ready, I folded up of the sides of the pie crust and pleated it wherever necessary, so that the crust lay over all but the center of the fruit. I laid a loose sheet of aluminum foil on top and baked it at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes. I checked on how it was doing at that point, and discovered that the pie crust had leaked out a bit of sauce, which was bubbling around the edges. No problem. I took a pastry brush and used the sauce to brush the top of the fruit. I also brushed some powdered sugar on the outside of the crust and put it back in the oven uncovered for 10 minutes or so, until the crust was golden brown and the juices in the pie were really bubbling.

Arrange the plums in the center of the crust.

It tasted great. Well, except for the pie crust. As good as it was, it seemed to recede into the background in comparison with the plums.

So, I cast about for suggestions on what crust to try next. Local food writer Chris Dunn offered one idea that I kept coming back to whenever I thought of what to do. He said to make of recipe of Mexican wedding cookie dough and roll it out. With a few modifications to my mom’s recipe (she calls them Russian tea cakes), I was ready to go. The result was much better and it’s the recipe I include below.

For one, I didn’t roll the dough out too thin, so no juices leaked. Plus, the nuts and the salt in the dough made the texture much more interesting. (Salt is a necessity in all pastry, and I like to use a coarse salt to give the dough even more brightness when you bite into a crystal.) I didn’t flour the board enough, however, so I had to cut the dough in half , slide a spatula underneath and mold it together with my finger once it was on the baking sheet.

My colleague, Bonnie Walker, has already requested a version of this for her upcoming birthday. But she wants a different crust, more of a buttery shortbread. That’s fine with me. I know I’ll enjoy experimenting with this recipe until the plums are gone and beyond. You can use any fruit with a good peel, from apples and pears to peaches and nectarines.

Plum Galette

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup ground almonds
1 egg

6 to 8 ripe plums
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste, divided use
2 tablespoons butter, cut in tiny slivers
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, or to taste

For crust: In a mixer, cream butter and add powdered sugar and salt, then vanilla until all is incorporated. Slowly add flour, ground almonds and egg. Form into dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Fold up the sides and dot with butter before baking.

For filling: Cut the plums into slices, removing the pit.

Line a baking sheet with Silpat, a non-stick baking sheet, or parchment paper. On a floured board, roll out the dough until it is about 14 inches round. The dough will be thick. Transfer to baking sheet. (If dough sticks to board, cut in half, use a spatula to lift and move. If pieces break off, use your finger to press it back to together.) Edges will likely hang over the side.

Once dough is ready, mix together flour, ground almonds and 1 tablespoon sugar. Spread around center within 2  inches of crust’s edge. Starting from center, build rings of plums in concentric circles going out, making sure the skin side is up. Taste a softer piece of plum. The riper it is, the less sugar you have to add. Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon sugar or to taste on top. Drop slivers of butter in any slightly open spot between fruit. Drizzle almond extract across the top.

Fold up the sides of the dough, pleating where necessary. Look for cracks in the dough and cover over them with your finger. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top and back 35-40 minutes or until crust is beginning to look done. Uncover and cook another 5-10 minutes until desired color is reached and fruit juices are bubbling.

Remove from oven and let cool 30 minutes at least before serving. Drizzle a spoonful of sour cream mixed with your favorite cordial, such as brandy or creme de cassis, if desired.

Makes 8-10 servings.

From John Griffin

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One Response to “A Plum Job”

  1. This looks really delicious and I like the idea of using a recipe for Mexican wedding cookies as the crust. I make these cookies every year for Christmas with a fruit filling (thumbprints), but now I’m seriously thinking about making a plum galette. Thanks for sharing your experiences in the kitchen… makes the post much more interesting than if you’d only given a recipe. 🙂