As summer draws to a close and the fruits of our springtime labours are pouring out of the Secret Garden in abundance, the earth below continues to provide. (In this first year, we’ve grown beetroot, corn on the cob, carrots – OK, maybe just the one carrot – cucumbers, potatoes, tender stem broccoli, a variety of beans, kale, spinach, rhubarb, blackberries, red currants, blueberries, strawberries, courgette, edible flowers, and tomatoes of an assortment of shapes and sizes). And now the trees above are showering us with apples of all kinds, and Victoria plums.
So, before the insects, the sometimes searing sun, and the children – whose sandpit we built directly under the plum tree – finish them off, I plucked a basket-full of ripe plums to put into a tart the other day.
On my walk back to the house, I was smacked by the fetid smell of rotting flesh hanging in the hot summer air. Something fishy was going on. The scorched, sepia-tinted lawn was shimmering with iridescent scales the size of coppers; death, it seemed, had been strewn across the garden. And then there was the hole… a big gaping abyss where Big Red had been laid to rest.
“Resurrection!” proclaimed The Husband. “Foxes”, I glumly replied. They’d had a field day. Or rather a banquet. I hope they made gefilte fish.
I had to tell The Mother-In-Law, over the phone, that there had been a massacre in the garden. “On the upside”, I said, “I’ve made a plum tart!”
Although there’s nothing better than eating fruit straight from the tree, hands sticky with juice and pockets full of stones, there’s also nothing like a soft fruit pud. Children – as Little Jack Horner contested – are quite, quite happy with either, and so when baking with our own plums I created this sugar-free tart for all to enjoy. It even managed to perk up The Mother-in-Law in her bereft state.
Zippy and her own, slightly lethal, version
As well as being sugar-free, it’s free from gluten and dairy, and full of nutty goodness from both the almond-based pastry and almond milk custard. And, to quote Niki Segnit in ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’, the star anise (with which the plums are roasted) ‘can do for almond what a half-decent heckle does for a tired comedy routine‘.
Should you stumble across a lane lined with brambles or a bounty of almost-turned fruits at the grocer, you could substitute plums for any other soft fruit. (Rhubarb, blackberries, apricots, mulberries and peaches would all work well.) And sure, go ahead and experiment with spices – take your pick from cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, vanilla, cardamom or anise – you really can’t go wrong.
You’ll need a 25cm tart tin or this will make 6-8 individual tartelettes depending on the size of your tins.
Cooking and preparation time is around 1 1/2 hours. Chill for another 2 hours before serving.
125g oat cakes
125g ground almonds (hazelnuts or walnuts would also do)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the tin
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon cold water
Roast Plum Filling
600g plums, cut in half and stones removed
3 star anise
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons cold water
500ml unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup, plus extra for the top of the tart
1 vanilla pod (or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract)
1 tablespoon cornflour
4 organic free-range egg yolks
Cinnamon for dusting
Preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4. Using a food processor (or the end of a rolling pin in a bowl), crush the oat cakes to a medium-fine crumb. Add the ground almonds, sea salt, coconut oil, honey/maple syrup and water, and combine until a dough forms. If the dough is too wet or too dry add some more ground almonds or water.
Press the dough evenly into the tart tin and prick the bottom with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes whilst you prepare the plums.
Place your plums and star anise in a baking dish, and drizzle with the honey/maple syrup and water. Roast at the top of the oven for around 30 minutes, until the plums are caramelised but not soggy.
Remove the plums from the oven and bake the chilled pastry case for 10 minutes. Leave to cool on a rack while you make the custard.
If using a vanilla pod, cut in half length-ways, scrape out the seeds and add to a heavy-bottomed pan along with the pod itself, the almond milk, and the honey/maple syrup. Heat gently over a medium heat until just boiling.
At the same time beat the eggs yolks until pale before adding the cornflour. Continue beating until smooth. Now slowly add the hot milk, stirring constantly. Return the custard mix to a low-medium heat and cook, stirring continuously, until it thickens slightly and coats the back of a wooden spoon. (Don’t let it boil.)
Pour the custard into the now cooled tart tin and then gently press in the roasted plums.
Drizzle the tart with honey and sprinkle with a dusting of cinnamon.
Bake on the middle shelf for another 10 minutes or until the crust is golden. Let cool and refrigerate for a couple of hours to set the custard completely.
Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving to bring to room temperature, and serve with yoghurt or crème fraîche.