“It is a very… plum… plum“, observes Count Almásy, in Minghella’s film of Ondaatje’s “The English Patient”. For some reason, I can’t now eat a plum without this line springing to mind. This particular scene in the film manages to convey the intensity of the flavour and enjoyment of taste without using any adjectives at all, which I rather like. To capture this “plum plum” taste(!), make sure you use ripe fruit, to bring its flavour to the forefront.
The wholemeal Khorasan flour gives this shortcrust a deliciously crumbly texture and golden colour. Khorasan, to me, tastes subtly of corn, which works particularly well to complement the buttery taste of the pastry.
There are two things to note when making the Khorasan shortcrust, as the method is critical to its success. Firstly, it needs to be rested in the fridge for much longer than with a plain flour shortcrust, otherwise it has a tendency to fall apart when fitting the pastry to the tin. Chilling the dough firms it up, and makes it easier to handle. Secondly, due to the wholemeal Khorasan flour, the dough is much more delicate to work with. I therefore recommend rolling it out between two sheets of cling film or baking parchment, to help prevent it tearing.
If you can’t get hold of Khorasan flour, or prefer to work with a more robust pastry, then you can substitute in my recipe for sweet shortcrust pastry for the base instead.
You will need a 24cm fluted loose-bottomed tart tin. This tart is best eaten on the day of making.
FOR THE SHORTCRUST
Start by cutting your butter into small cubes of roughly 1cm using two knives to avoid touching it with your hands, and place it in a large mixing bowl.
Add the flours, icing sugar and salt, and gently rub the butter in using your fingertips. You should end up with a breadcrumb-type consistency.
Sprinkle the beaten egg followed by the teaspoons of cider vinegar evenly over the mixture. Use a blunt kitchen knife or palette knife to incorporate it as quickly as possible and bring the dough together – you may need to finish this off with your hands.
Shape your dough into a smooth disc and wrap it in cling film. Rest it in the fridge for 12 hours, or overnight.
When you are ready to bake your tart case, preheat your oven to 220°C. Remove the dough from the fridge, and leave it for 5-10 minutes to warm up ever-so-slightly – just enough to allow you to roll it out. Don’t bring it to room temperature, as it needs to be cold in order to work with it. Place the dough between two sheets of cling film or baking parchment, and use a rolling pin to ridge it out. Rotate at each quarter turn, and when it is big enough, roll it out into a circle shape, roughly 3mm thick.
Remove the cling film or baking parchment, and lay the pastry over the tin using your rolling pin to help lift it. Use your fingers to press it snugly into the grooves, and trim off any excess pastry. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork to prevent bubbles forming. Cover the base and sides of the case with baking parchment, and weight it down with baking beans. Make sure the beans are pushed right into the edges of the tin.
Blind bake the pastry case for 10 minutes, until golden with no wet patches of dough. Remove the parchment and beans, and prick the base again with a fork. Bake for a further 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside.
FOR THE FILLING
Reduce the oven heat to 140°C. Place your milk, cream, grated vanilla bean and cinnamon in a saucepan on a low heat and bring to just under the boil, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, beat your egg yolks and sugar in a bowl using an electric hand whisk until pale and creamy. Add the milk and cream mixture gradually, beating all the time until the mixture thickens. Skim off any bubbles that form, to ensure a smooth surface for the custard – you want to avoid the mixture becoming frothy.
Chop your plums into halves, thirds and quarters (I like to use a combination of sizes), and place them in the pastry tart case. Pour the custard over the top. Place it on a low shelf in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave it to set in the tin, before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling. Lightly dust with icing sugar to decorate before serving.