There are few paths that led to this recipe but the main one is that it instantly reminded me of the kind of crumb pies I remember from bakeries growing up, not the kind with a crumble topping but ones with a crust also composed of pressed crumbs. And guys, I love a buttery, flaky, ethereal pie crust woven over cherries and bronzed in the oven as much as the next person, but the idea of choosing it over a crumbly composite of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and sometimes nuts is pure madness. But the filling gave me pause — a custard? a custard that suspends fruit? How odd, right? Or delicious? I went back and forth over the odd-versus-delicious line for the better part of a decade before deciding to finally make it this week. A decade. This recipe was actually published in a 1999 Martha Stewart Living. I was living in Washington D.C., dating a terrible idea and trying to figure out how I could find a place in New York that didn’t charge more than $600/month rent. This recipe is ancient history, people.
So why this week? Like most things in my life right now, it relates to a still (yes, still) unfinished but imminently due manuscript, and my inability to think about much else, which has turned into a perfect time to outsource a bit, by dusting off recipes I’ve had on my To Cook list for eons — especially those that involve plums. I’m seeing plums everywhere these days, and I love them, but they’re always a little bittersweet to me, as they’re one of the last fruits to appear before apples, and everyone knows that while you munch through buckets of apples, late summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter and suddenly, they’re the last fresh fruit you see until rhubarb — which isn’t even a real fruit, but one that likes to pretend it is — appears in the late spring. Hm, aren’t I just a bundle of cheer today?
Instead, I’ll finish with a funnier story. I’ve worked my way through my book section by section; there was a lot of salad last fall, a lot of breakfast in January and a wonderful month this spring where we had a real home-cooked meal for dinner almost every night. Unfortunately, we’re now in the dessert section, which has been heralded with
the purchase of a terrifying amount of butter a reignited intimacy with the gym abject terror: What on earth am I going to do with 25 desserts? As if a magic wand had been waved, earlier this week I had the opportunity to meet my husband’s coworkers; they bought me beers and in exchange I apparently agreed to send all of my desserts directly to them forever more. Word is, this one didn’t last an hour which means I think my work here is done.
One year ago: Eggplant Salad Toasts
Two years ago: Grilled Eggplant and Olive Pizza and Peach Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting
Three years ago: Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs
Four years ago: Plum Almond Tarts
Five years ago: Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake
Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart
Barely adapted from Martha Stewart
So how does it taste? Fantastic, but considering that it involves butter, hazelnuts, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar and plums, you probably don’t need to tell me that. The aroma from your kitchen will beckon strangers to your door; it weakens steel dessert wills. I mentioned that the custard filling gave me pause but we ended up liking it a lot, it was less of a jiggly baked custard and more like something that bound the plums nicely together. However, if we are being completely honest, I would love love love love love to exchange the custard mixture for a cream cheese custard (i.e. cheesecake) mixture next time. I believe it would be deadly delicious. I have not (repeat: have not) tested this, but my hunch is that you could replace the 1/3 cup heavy cream with a 3 ounce package of softened cream cheese, beaten with the eggs, sugar, flour and milk. I’d love to hear if any of you pull this off.
I nixed the raspberries in the original recipe and replaced them with extra plum. I love raspberries but I don’t think they were necessary here (and vaguely remember the late 1990s as being a time when everything from roast chicken to chocolate sauces had raspberry in it, aye, thus, maybe the inclusion was more a product of that time). My only other heads-up about the recipe is that, given that it is a crumb base, it does start to get soggy on the second day. Not terribly so, nobody is going to push it away, dejected, because of the added moisture, but this tart is definitely the most sturdy in the first 24 to 48 hours.
Crust and crumbs
3/4 cup unsalted butter (6 ounces or 175 grams), chilled, cut into small pieces, plus more for pan
1/3 cup (1 3/4 ounces or 50 grams) hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed (65 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1 pound (455 grams) ripe but firm plums (about 4 standard black ones or 12 smaller Italian plums; I used a mix of both)
1 tablespoon (10 grams) all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grated nutmeg, optional
Preheat you oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch (22-23cm) springform pan; set aside. Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Bake until fragrant, about 10 to 15 minutes, then let cool enough to remove the skins.* Place nuts in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until medium fine, about 30 pulses.
Transfer nuts to the bowl of an electric mixer and add 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; mix until just combined. Add butter, and mix on low speed until crumbs begin to stick together, about 2 to 3 minutes. Press 3 cups of crumb into the bottom of the prepared pan and about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the pan to form crust; I like to use the bottom and side of a heavy measuring cup to help press the crumbs neatly down and up the side, forming a nice inner corner. Set remaining crumb mixture (about 1 1/2 cups) aside. Transfer crust to the oven; bake until it appears to be set, 15 to 20 minutes; go easy on this baking time as I found it was easy to overbake the outer corners of the tart base in the final baking. It’s going to slump a wee bit in the oven; feel free to press the sides back up the sides with the back of a metal spoon when it comes out of the oven to get them back in place. Set aside to cool (the fridge will expedite this for you).
Slice plums in half, and remove pits. Slice larger plums into eighths and smaller ones into quarters and arrange in cooled crust. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon flour and 6 tablespoons granulated sugar. Whisk in egg, egg yolk, heavy cream, milk, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few gratings of fresh nutmeg. Pour custard over fruit; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Transfer tart to the oven; bake until custard has set and is slightly golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Let rest at least 25 minutes before cutting if serving warm. You can serve this warm or at room temperature but we much preferred it fully chilled.
* On toasting and skinning hazelnuts: I find that the trick to getting the skins off it to toast them quite well; keep an eye on them so they don’t burn, but let them get some color. That extra color will translate to deeper flavor and looser skins; everyone wins. Some people like to rub the nuts in a dishtowel to loosen the skins but I hate the mess this makes all over my kitchen when I inevitably forget that the towel is a mess of flakes and pick it up. Instead, with dry hands, I roll a few together between my palms until the skins come off and the mess stays on the tray. In general, I almost never get all of the skins off but it doesn’t matter; as long as most of the skins are removed, you won’t have any nagging bitterness.