Spring is here, and this wonderful season has arrived with color, beautiful blossoms, and a new friendship with Mimi, my fellow writer-baker from the blog A Quarrel of Feasts. This is my first collaboration on the blog, and I am ecstatically happy with all I have been able to learn and share with my friend Mimi. I hope you will enjoy this special post as much as I have putting it together.
Last fall, I took a food photography course and was connected to a community of food bloggers and photographers. I perused some of the accounts of the students, and one of them especially caught my attention because it was unique and had a distinct voice: A Quarrel of Feasts. It’s no secret that I am obsessed with food of all kinds and traditions. I follow a few blogs by e-mail, but it is not often that one encounters a gem like A Quarrel of Feasts, blending recipes and mouthwatering images with narratives about the history, origins, and quirks of food traditions. A lot of food bloggers focus just on the food and recipes that they post, but I really enjoy when someone tells a good story and connects the food they prepare to something meaningful and personal. When I read Mimi’s story about growing up in Brooklyn, New York, surrounded by her Croatian American family and immersed in Dalmatian cuisine, I was immediately captured.
When Mimi approached me about a collaboration, I was so thrilled! The more we interacted, the more it felt like serendipity had brought us together. We enjoy a lot of the same interests and hobbies, such as baking, poetry, film, and literature, and we had similar educational backgrounds and aspirations. She has an MFA in writing and I am an English major. It’s not every day you meet a kindred spirit, and it was so cool to see our encounter blossom into friendship fueled by food, art, and a sincerity of spirit. When Mimi suggested making a fresh fruit tart, paying homage to the French influences in both of our culinary heritages, I thought it was perfect. Spring seasons is here and, like many bakers, I eagerly await spring and summer so I can bake fresh fruit tarts. Amazingly, we didn’t even have to debate what kind of fruit to use! Miraculously, we both thought of plum tarts. What are the odds? Blessed by so many coincidences, we found that plums feature prominently in both of our cultural heritages. Plum trees were abundant in the region of Dalmatia that Mimi’s father called home, as well as the key ingredient of the national drink Sljivovica (pronounced SCHLEE-VO-vitz-AH), an 80-proof brandy made with plums. My maiden last name literally means “plum-picker” in German. So there you have it: both of our family trees have a history of deep affinity for plums!
Mimi’s recipe, Croatian Plum Custard Tart, is a delicious clafoutis-style tart with a crumbly pâte sablée crust and a rich plum filling, seasoned with sugar, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, and Sljivovica. I totally get Mimi’s inspiration to cook this dessert. It carries a sweet nostalgia of her family’s faraway home, warm family gatherings marked by laughter and happiness, and that intoxicating smell of “plums on fire” of Sljivovica. I have the image the perfume of the tart wafting in her Brooklyn kitchen. Must have been hard to resist! Mimi’s gorgeous creation is a novel twist on the French dessert clafoutis, and there is a decadent egg custard filling poured over the plum mixture, which contributes not just to the taste, but to the visual appeal of the dessert, creating pretty swirls where the custard and plums mingle together. It sounds so utterly delicious that if it weren’t for the COVID-19 restrictions in place, I would fly to New York City to get a slice of this heavenly tart and have a chat with my new friend.
My own version of the plum tart also features a sablée crust, as Mimi and I wanted to create tarts that featured the same kind of crust. Originally, I wanted to make a patisserie cream filling and top it with roasted plums, but as I developed the recipe, I realized I wanted a more unique filling featuring cream cheese, and that the luscious, creamy filling would pair better with the taste of fresh fruit. The acidity of the fruit cuts through some of the richness of the crust and filling and balances it out. I created this recipe especially for this collaboration and to feature a combination the three main cultural traditions I grew up with: the sablée crust is an ode to the French heritage on my mom’s side; the cream is enriched with cream cheese and scented with orange blossom, a nod to the Spanish roots of my family; and finally, the freshly-sliced plums sitting on top of the filling are in honor of my Dad’s German side of the family. I am pretty sure he will love that we featured his namesake fruit! For those curious about the filling, this is an adaptation of San Francisco’s famous Tartine Bakery’s famous lemon crème in their eponymous book, popularized by Food52. The original recipe features a sharp lemon curd enriched with butter at the end of the recipe, which is different than the making of most curds. Instead of lemon, I used orange juice and orange blossom and incorporated cream cheese, since I wanted a filling that was halfway between a cream and a cheesecake in terms of flavor. The texture will still be soft like a crème, and the flavor is absolutely amazing. The cream cheese is a good vehicle to absorb the floral notes of the blossom, and they complement each other very well. It was so delicious, I ate a lot the filling by itself, sans pâte sablée. Don’t judge me! I promise you won’t be disappointed in the filling.
I had so much fun getting to know Mimi and working on this collab together, and I hope that as you read this post you will be inspired to try her delicious recipe. Besides, what better gift could you make to a friend you haven’t seen in awhile? We may not be able to gather at coffee shops together for awhile, but we can still exchange gifts like this to remind each other of the sweetness of friendship.
A few notes on the recipe:
- This recipe has been tested with the below proportions, and it is ideal for sharing. I shared my tarts for Mother’s Day with friends and family. I am working on a smaller-batch recipe of this, but the filling can be a little bit finicky, so I won’t post the reduced version until I have tested it a couple of times.
- When making the orange blossom filling, do not use a metallic bowl, because when you mix an acidic fruit (such as citrus) over heat, it will absorb the metallic taste of the bowl. Use a ceramic or glass bowl if you have one. No fancy equipment is needed for this recipe except for a thermometer, candy thermometer, or digital thermometer, and an immersion blender.
- Do make sure that you cook the orange blossom mixture until it reaches 180 F. The most foolproof way is using a thermometer. If the filling isn’t cooked long enough, it won’t thicken later on.
- Similarly, do make sure that the filling is cooled to reach a temperature of 140 F before you add the butter and cream cheese. If you add the butter and cream cheese when it is too warm, the mixture will be more liquid than it should be, and your tart filling won’t thicken.
Plum and Orange Blossom Cream Tart
Prep time: 15 minutes
Chill time: 30 minutes + 1 hour
Cook time: 12-15 minutes
Servings: makes 2 9” tarts or 1 9” tart and 6 individual tart servings, for sharing
For the Crust
- 16 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2/3 cup powdered sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 2/3 cups minus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
For the Orange Blossom Cream Filling
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ cup orange juice
- ½ tsp vanilla
- 1 ½ tsp orange blossom extract
- ¾ cups butter, cubed and cold
- 8 oz cream cheese, cold
For the Topping
- 3-4 plums
- pink blossoms and/or thyme branches to garnish
For the Crust
- For the pâte sablée, in a bowl, beat together the butter and powdered sugar until creamy.
- Add in the egg yolks and mix until combined.
- Incorporate the flour and salt, beating gently until the dough comes together. Make sure there is no visible flour.
- Shape the dough into a ball and divide into two. Press one half of the dough into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, making sure that the thickness was even throughout. With the second half of the tart, repeat this process to either fit a second 9-inch tart pan or fit into six individual mini-tart pans with removable bottoms.
- Using a fork, prick the bottom of the tart crusts so that the sablee doesn’t puff up during baking.
- Cover the tart pans with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour. You can chill it for a couple of days if you want to make the crust in advance.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and bake the tarts until the crust is light brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the tart crust from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
For the Orange Blossom Filling
- In a double boiler or heavy-bottomed sauce pan, warm 2 inches of water over medium heat. Bring the water to a simmer.
- While the water is warming up, in a shatterproof glass or stoneware bowl, combine the orange juice, egg yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt.
- Place the glass or stoneware bowl over the saucepan containing the simmering water. You are basically recreating the double boiler but not using the metal top to avoid giving the filling a metallic taste.
- Heat the mixture in this double bath method, whisking constantly. You don’t want to leave the mixture still for very long to avoid the eggs cooking too quickly and scrambling.
- After cooking the mixture for about 10-12 minutes, the mixture will be thickened. Test with a candy or digital thermometer to ensure the mixture has reached 180°F.
- Remove the bowl from the heat and stir gently to release the heat gradually. Let cool for 15-20 minutes, or until the mixture reaches 140°F. I would strongly suggest using a thermometer to check the temperature of the mixture before you move onto the next step.
- Once the mixture cools down, use an immersion blender to add the cold butter a few cubes at a time.
- After you’ve added all the butter, your cream filling will look a pale yellow and will have a thicker consistency. Add the cream cheese gradually, a few cubes at a time, blending well with the immersion blender and making sure it is fully incorporated before adding the remaining pieces of cream cheese.
- Add the vanilla and orange blossom extracts, blending well, and cover the bowl and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.
Fruit Filling and Assembly
- Cut the plums into thin slices. Once the orange blossom cream has chilled and the tart shell is cooled, pour the orange blossom cream into the prepared shell. Smooth it out with an offset spatula to. Cut the plums into thin slices and lightly place on top of the filling, creating a pattern. I placed them in concentric circles, but there are many ways you could artfully arrange the slices, such as arranging them in a square grid or creating an asymmetric pattern on only one side of the tart.
- Decorate with fresh thyme branches if desired.
- Serve the tart immediately and store in the refrigerator up to 3 days.