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Plum Tart with a Rich Almond Custard

When we think of plums we tend to think 'Victoria, the well-marketed plum dating from the middle of the nineteenth century, but there are many earlier high-quality plum varieties, the cultivation of which was at its peak in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although plums were grown in Roman times, it was in the Middle Ages that the plum achieved recognition, grown as it was in many monasteries. Its name was applied to any dried fruit, including sultanas, currants and raisins, so when the sixteenth-century rhyme about Little Jack Horner states that 'he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum' he was probably in fact pulling out a raisin.
In Victorian times, plums were more frequently cooked in pies, sometimes alongside whole almonds and chopped hazelnuts or with roasted walnuts. As fellow members of the apricot family, plums are natural bedfellows of the almonds.

ingredients

serves 6 - 8
175 g (6 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry (with 1 teaspoon almond essence added with egg yolk) - see page 15
115 g (4 oz) caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
675 g (1 1/2 lb) large ripe but firm plums, stoned and cut into quarters lengthwise
55 g (2 oz) butter, cut into small pieces

for the custard

55 g (2 oz) almonds
400 g (14 oz) tub of ready-made custard
1 teaspoon almond essence

method

1. Line a shallow 23cm (9 in) tart tin (or 6 tartlet tins) with the pastry and bake blind. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5.

2. Mix the sugar with the cinnamon and spread two-thirds of the mixture over the pre-baked pastry case (or tartlet pastry cases).

3. Place the plum quarters evenly over the pastry base (about 6-8 quarters in the case of each tartlet), and then cover with the remaining sugar and cinnamon mixture. Dot each plum quarter with a small knob of butter.

4. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes (less for tartlets), by which time the filling should be bubbling, dark and caramelly-looking.

5. Put the almonds on a baking tray and roast alongside the tart for 10 minutes. Cool slightly and grind finely in a food processor or similar.

6. Test the plums with a knife to see if they are soft. The plum quarters may shrivel; in that case you may wish to cover them with a sprinkling of sifted icing sugar, just before serving.

7. While the tart is cooking, warm the custard, almonds and almond essence in a saucepan.

8. Serve the tart warm or at room temperature with the almond custard.

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