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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What I cooked on my summer vacation, part 6


By far, the most dramatic thing I cooked during my recent week in Truro was a plum tarte tatin from Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques." I love stone fruit of all kind, and I love caramel, and I love puff pastry, so this was an obvious thing to try. I adapted it a bit, cutting corners here and there, and it worked like a dream. (Suzanne's brilliance is to have you completely cool off the plums in their caramel sauce before putting the cold pastry on top of it and baking it. That keeps the pastry crisp.)

The drama came when we ate it. My friend Stephen has some gorgeous furniture, including a stunning modern sectional couch with pale green fabric. After I cut the tart and served it with whipped cream (we didn't have creme fraiche), we sat back to watching "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." After only a bite or two, I pushed too hard with my fork, and the entire plate flipped and, you guessed it, a piece of that dark purple fruit smeared right on the couch. All heck broke loose as we rushed to get seltzer and dab, dab, dab, and finally it seemed to fade out. Whew.

The worst part, of course, is that the accident (and the resulting tension) overshadowed the fabulosity of the dessert.

I had to make it again. So I took the opportunity of my friend Rachel's cookout last weekend, but when I tried to cut recipe corners even further, it was a disaster. Suzanne knew what she was doing when she called for letting the plums sit for a half hour in sugar to get rid of the extra juice; don't skip that step. I did, and there was so much liquid I had to scrap the whole thing. All was not lost, though. I fished out the crust from the pool of fruit, wrung it out, threw the fruit and liquid in the blender, and froze it into a pretty amazing sorbet.

Plum tarte tatin with creme fraiche

3 pounds plums, halved and pitted
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 sheet frozen all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1 cup creme fraiche

1. Toss the plums with 1/4 cup sugar and let sit at least 30 minutes. Drain, and discard juice or use for another purpose.
2. In a 10-inch cast-iron or other oven-proof skillet, heat the butter until foaming, then add 3/4 cup sugar. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, swirling the pan often, until caramel is a deep brown. Remove from the heat.
3. Arrange the plums, cut side down, in tight concentric circles, in the pan, overlapping them slightly if necessary.
4. Return the pan to a medium-low burner. Cook the plums without stirring for 20 to 30 minutes, or until soft. Allow to cool completely. (For best results refrigerate for at least 2 hours.)
5. When ready to bake the tart, set the oven at 375 degrees. Remove the puff pastry from the freezer and leave to thaw just until you can handle it. Cut an 11-inch circle from the pastry, pierce it in a few places with a fork, and place it on top of the plums, tucking in the edges. Brush it with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
6. Bake the tart for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the pastry is deep golden and cooked throughout. Cool it on a rack for 30 minutes.
7. When ready to serve, invert the tart onto a serving plate, readjust plums if they have fallen out of place, and serve with creme fraiche.

Adapted from "Sunday Suppers at Lucques"

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