Plum Crumble Tart

Sometimes, when the thick blanket of San Francisco fog makes it impossible to tell what time of day it is all day long, and I've already had three cups of coffee by 9:00 am and they're not making a dent in the feeling of blah, I know I have to spring into action to keep the day from being a total bust. So last week on One of Those Days, I sent out an SOS invitation to some friends who I was willing to bet were having the same kind of day we were: 3:00 pm, bring your babes, coffee, Oprah and One Really Good Plum Tart. On the day of which I speak, this tart was in the oven by 10:00 am. The relentless mist and wind made the thought of a post-lunchtime outing less than appealing, and Baby C had slipped into an easy, albeit short, morning nap. I'd had my eye on this recipe for the better part of a week and just couldn't get it out of my head. I'd gathered an armful of firm-ripe plums at the market the day before, when I'd had an inkling that the weather man was just being a big liar again, and this "massive heatwave" he'd been yammering about for days was never really going to come. I was so right. But I was wrong about Italian Prune Plum season--I'd hoped it might still be hanging on, but after searching three markets with an impatient toddler, I gave up and chose the deepest-hued regular plums I could find.

You'd think, with this being a plum tart and all, that the star would be the fruit. Well, you (meaning I) would be all wrong about that. Even if I'd been able to use the elusive Italian Prune Plums for this dish, I doubt they would have been as spectacular and noteworthy as the tweedy, nutty, crisp crust upon which they sat.

The crust for this tart is, in my opinion, the very best kind of crust, meaning the no-stress variety. It all comes together in mere minutes, patted into the pan, no precious rolling or messy flouring of workspace or blind baking involved. Buttery, brown sugared and studded with walnuts, I could happily munch a slice of the bare crust, no filling required.
Even better, the crust mixture pulls double duty here--some lines the tart pan, and the rest stays crumbly, sprinkled over the fanned-out fruit like a sandy blanket. It's really more of a tart/crumble hybrid--so much more interesting than your standard fruit tart.

When baked, the crust crisps up in the most surprising way, maintaining a nice snap even under the luscious baked fruit. And that crumbly topping morphs into a nubbly, crunchy, edible crocheted afghan of sorts, with tips of ruby plums peeking out of the holes. It is a thing of beauty.

No really, I mean, it's really pretty--I ended up with like 50 maddening-to-sort-through photos of the finished tart, I was so enamored with the whole thing.

Something else I love about this recipe is its springboard qualities--I will be making this again very soon with pears, and possibly swapping out the walnuts for almonds and a dash of cinnamon or cardamom in the crust. Or maybe an apple and pistachio pairing. Who knows?! The possibilities are endless! I'm telling you, sometimes I get so wild around here, people.

But not as wild as all the bombs that Mackenzie Phillips was dropping on Oprah that afternoon while we snacked on plum tart and coffee. Now that lady knows from tart.

Plum Crumble Tart Adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!

If you can find Italian prune plums, by all means, use them. They are smaller than regular plums, so quarter them instead of cutting them into sixths. Look for firm-ripe fruit, nothing soft. Avoid very large plums, as they won't fit as easily or prettily into the tart pan. If you buy pre-chopped walnuts, give them a few once-overs with a knife--you want them very finely chopped, but not ground. If you find the tips of the baked fruit looking a bit lackluster, just brush them with a bit of melted jam or jelly to add some shine.

2 cups all-purpose flour 3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts 3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, diced 1 egg yolk 2 pounds small plums, pitted and cut into sixths lengthwise (quartered if you can find Italian prune plums)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom or springform pan ready, placed on a baking sheet.

In the bow of a standing mixer, combine the flour, walnuts and brown sugar on low speed. Add the butter and the egg yolk and mix on medium-low speed until the butter is well-incorporated and the mixture is crumbly (it will resemble moist brown sugar).

Put about 2 cups of the crust mixture into the pan and pat it evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan (a sturdy measuring cup is a helpful tool for the job). Arrange the plum slices skin side down in a flower pattern, working from the outside in. Scatter the rest of the crumbly crust mixture in an even layer over the top of the fruit.

Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, until it the crust and topping are deeply golden and the fruit juices are bubbling. Cool for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a serving platter.

PieShauna Sever