Sweet treat: A latticed plum tart from Tuscany

Mediterranean tips about the wonders of baked fruit

Crosata tart can be served at room temperature, but gently warming it  loosens the filling.  Photograph: iStock

Crosata tart can be served at room temperature, but gently warming it loosens the filling. Photograph: iStock

 

The secret to being a good cook is having a basic repertoire that can be adapted to what you have to hand. Our Mediterranean neighbours have a flair for baking with fruit, especially at this time of year when tree branches are heaving with seasonal bounty.

The inspiration for this Tuscan plum tart comes from La Cucina Caldesi in London, a vibrant Italian cookery school and cafe. Crostata is an Italian baked tart or pie and the chef patrons Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi made this plum crostata during a guest appearance at Cooks Academy.

A typical Tuscan farmhouse would have a larder of home-made preserves and the original recipe used plum jam for the filling. Baking with fruit is never the same and often requires judicious use of sugar. Shop-bought plum jam can be very sweet, so in this version the plums are poached in a rich red wine sauce which is then reduced to a syrup to give a jammy consistency.

The tart can be served at room temperature, but I prefer it gently warmed, which does loosen the filling. But once served with vanilla ice cream, this messy liquor is a heavenly bonus.

The latticed crust gives an impressive finish (if you are good at basket weaving you will nail this).

If your creation looks very professional, I would suggest you drop a subtle comment that you did in fact make the tart from scratch.

Variation: Turn these plums in syrup into an elegant gluten-free plum and ice cream dessert. Serve plums hot, drizzle with sauce and garnish each plate with a bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Don’t forget the boule of vanilla ice cream. 

Latticed plum tart
Serves 6
225g plain flour
110g cold butter, diced small
30g icing sugar, sieved
1 orange, zest of
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg (plus 1 extra egg for basting lattice)

Plum syrup
600g firm plums (approx 8 medium-sized plums), halved and stoned
150ml red wine
75g brown sugar (plus extra sprinkled over pastry)
3 tbsp honey
1 bay leaf or 1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
To serve: vanilla ice cream

Method
1.
Grease and line a 20cm loose bottom tart tin. Preheat oven to 180 degrees fan.
2. To make the pastry, sieve the flour into a bowl. Add the diced butter and rub into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in icing sugar and the orange zest. Add in the egg and vanilla extract and use a knife to bring it together to a firm dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 20 minutes.
3. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line the tin (rolling the pin once over the tin rim cleanly trims any overhanging  pastry away). Gather together the trimmings and keep for the lattice. To bake the pastry blind, prick the base lightly with a fork, line with parchment paper and fill with baking beans (or rice). Place in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until fully baked. Set aside.
4. To make the lattice, use a 20cm circular cake base or plate, covered with cling film. Roll out the pastry trimmings and cut into 1cm-wide ribbons long enough to cross the tart. Weave a neat lattice over the circle with even spaces between ribbons. Glaze the pastry lattice with egg wash (or milk), sprinkle with brown sugar. Chill the lattice once made.
5. Place plums in a wide, heavy-based saucepan. Add red wine, brown sugar, honey, bay leaf (or star anise) and the cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-12 minutes until the plums have softened slightly, remove the plums from the liquid and set aside. Boil to reduce liquor in saucepan by half or until it starts to turn syrupy. Remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick.
6. When ready to bake, arrange the plums cut-side facing down inside the pastry shell. Pour all the syrup over the plums. Peel the clingfilm away and drape the neatly prepared lattice over the plums. Bake the tart for 20 minutes at 180 degrees on fan or until the pastry is golden. 
7. Leave at room temperature for the filling to set, or serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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