Knowing that fall is fast approaching with its shorter and cooler days, rain and leafless trees, I want to make the most of the warm late summer days. I keep my windows open to take in the late summer sounds (cicadas and birds), ride my bicycle to farmers’ markets to enjoy the bounty of produce and take long walks to admire the nature still bursting with life.
For an outdoorsy and sun loving person, like myself, a summer to fall transition is never easy. It means spending more time at home focusing on the indoor activities. The best remedy that effectively helps me beat the autumn blues is baking. It infallibly lifts my mood even on the gloomiest days. Feeling a bit rusty, I’m going to start practicing that skill even before autumn hits.
For this recipe I picked Italian plums, also called prune or Empress plums — noticeably different from other varieties. They are smaller and oval rather than round in shape with a dark blue skin and yellow-green interior. This variety is perfect for baking because of their natural sweetness and low water content. They are currently in season and are available in farmers’ markets, regular grocery stores (Mariano’s, Jewel’s) or local ethnic stores that usually offer lower prices on the produce they sell.
The tart made with a shortbread dough is easy and quick to prepare.
- 12-15 medium Italian plums (for a 9-inch round baking pan)
- 6-8 medium apricots
- 2 cups organic white wheat flour (or 2 cups oat flour for gluten free option)
- 1/8 cup potato starch
- 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 13/4 sticks of butter, softened and chopped into small pieces, preferably European brand
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2-3 tbsp ice water (if needed)
- pinch of salt
Slice up the washed plums and apricots and set them aside. Each plum and apricot should yield about six slices.
In a large bowl combine the flour, potato starch, sugar and salt. Add the butter chopped into small pieces and mix by hand until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with small bits of butter. (Another option is to process the mixture on pulse mode in a food processor.)
Add the whole egg, egg yolk and vanilla, and continue mixing with hand until they are incorporated and the mixture resembles a fine meal. Stir in the ice water (if needed) with hand, one tablespoons at a time, until the mixture is moistened enough to gather and mold into a ball.
Wrap the dough with plastic and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Remove the chilled dough from the fridge, and allow to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough. Lift and turn it as you work, keeping the work surface dusted with flour to prevent sticking.
Fit the dough into a tart pan and press it firmly against the sides and bottom without stretching it. Trim off the excess dough, cover and chill it in the pan for at least 30 minutes before baking.
To bake the tart shell, prick the dough all over with a fork, cover lightly with foil and bake at 375° F (190° C) for 15 minutes.
Remove the tart from the oven and on top arrange the plum slices in concentric circles. Arrange the apricot slices along the perimeter of the tart.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes at 375 F then lower the temperature to 350 F and bake about 25-30 minutes until plums are bubbly and the tart golden.
Remove from the oven and let it cool. Serve by itself or with a dollop of whipped cream.
Health benefits of prune plums:
The prune plums contain plenty of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins A, C and K and potassium. Moreover, plums have the ability to increase absorption of iron into the body, possibly because of high vitamin C content.