Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Galette au Prunier - Plum Tart

One of my earliest "fancy restaurant" memories growing up goes back to my parent's 25th Wedding Anniversary. I was about 8 at the time. I remember sitting at the table with my family around it, and I remember being excited that my parents were celebrating their "Silver Anniversary" (the "silver" part was what really captivated my imagination for some reason).

I'm not going to pretend I remember all the details of the meal, because I honestly don't. I do remember that this was the first time I'd heard of such a thing as a "sundried tomato" at the time, the image of a bunch of tomatoes (one of my least favorite foods at the time) sitting around in the sun wasn't appealing.

What I remember most clearly about the meal itself though is dessert. I remember having two options: molten chocolate cake OR plum tart. As an 8 year old, it would have been pretty much expected for me to go for the chocolate cake (my brother knows how fond of chocolate cake young Matthew was!). However, demonstrating even then my eagerness to jump into the culinary unknown, I opted for the plum tart.

My father made fun of me for that for ages...I would just rave about that tart. It was delicious - sweet, sour, fresh and visually pretty all at once. Months and even a few years afterwards I would mention that tart and my dad would smile and proceed to tease me about it.

Well, the other day, while reading My Life in France, Julia Child mentioned being impressed by a deliciously simple galette made by her instructor. This led to a little internet research and I wound up determining that a galette (in the sense in which she was referring to one) is a kind of free-form rustic tart. I figured it sounded easy enough and definitely like something which would be quick and inexpensive and wouldn't tax the dorm kitchen too much with the first go. I have been baking since I was very young, I know my way around a mixing bowl, one might say. So I was excited to jump at something fresh, simple, and (hopefully) delicious.

A galette is a fool-proof pastry. Anyone who has ever considered trying to bake a pie or tart should get ready to jump into the kitchen and make one (and seriously, a homemade pie will trump ANYTHING storbought anyday). Quite simply, a galette is a sheet of pastry dough, halfway wrapped around a fruit filling. A galette can be made with any fruit -- pretty much throwing in whatever is in season will produce excellent results. It's best to use fruits like apples, pears, peaches, or...plums. The best part is that the tart is free-form and made without a couldn't be easier!

I couldn't find a recipe that did quite what I wanted, so I decided to just make it up based on what recipes I DID see and my own knowledge of baking. This is what I came up with.

Galette au Prunier : Plum Tart

For the Crust:

  • 1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 Cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1/8-1/4 Cup ice water

For the Filling

  • 5 plums
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon flour, + more for dusting
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
1). Preheat the oven to 450 F. Slice each of the plums into about 8 slices each. They don't have to be's a rustic tart so just have fun with it! *** The best way to cut slice a plum is to cut it in half starting at the natural split in the plum's flesh near the stem. Once you've cut all the way around, twist each half gently in the opposite direction and the plum will open itself.

2). Next, mix the plums with the 1 Tablespoon of flour, the salt and the sugar -- I know, salt sounds out of place, but it actually brings out the natural flavor of the fruit, while the sugar will not only add a little more sweetne
ss, but will also help to start breaking down the fruit so it starts to produce juice! Set that bowl aside.

3). In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar
, and salt. Then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or by gently rubbing the flour and butter together (I just used my hands...I don't have a pasty cutter here at school!) until you have clumps somewhere between the size of peas and cornmeal.

. slowly add a small amount of water to the butter-flour mixture until there's enough that the clumps will begin to stick together. There's no exact science to how much water you'll need so just go until you can form it into a ball of dough. It'll look something like this.

5). Now, roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface, being careful to fix any rips along the way! Try to get your dough to be as close to an oval or circle as you can...but again, the shape doesn't matter...the messier it is, the more "rustic" it looks!

6). Once you've rolled out your dough, transfer it to a greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Then dust the surface of the dough with flour and dot it with butter (this will help keep the crust from getting too soggy while simultaneously ensuring the plums will have a nice thick sauce!

7). Arrange the plums on the dough however you'd like, being sure to leave some room to fold the dough over. I decided to go with a more "upscale" arrangement...I figured it's about time for me to get things looking 'fancier'. But as it's a rustic tart...feel free to just dump it on's all up to how you want it to look!

8). Now, gently fold the edges of the crust over the fruit, be sure to seal it tightly so that the juices don't escape...but again, don't worry about how it looks!

9). Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the sauce around the plums is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.

Allow the galette to cool, but be sure to enjoy it warm. It can keep (refrigerated!) for a couple of days, but the longer you save it, the soggier the pastry will be. Besides...I've never known pastry to sit around uneaten!

I'm happy to be able to consider my first foray into "stepped up" cooking to be a success. And I managed to recreate one of my favorite early food memories in one fell swoop.

Bon Appétit!

"Bon Appétit!"

While my dear friend Stephanie was visiting me here in DC a couple weeks ago, we popped into a Barnes & Noble where I stumbled upon a display of My Life in France, by Julia Child. While I vaguely recall watching The French Chef (Julia Child's PBS cooking show) with my mom when I was about 5 years old, and while I'm certainly familiar with all the jokes about her voice and manner of speaking I realized that I didn't know much about her.

I decided to buy it.

When I actually picked it up to read it a couple days ago, I was quite pleased to discover that I just couldn't put it down. The book is fabulous (and I heartily recommend it to anyone with even the vaguest interest in cooking, france, julia child, or food in general). A memoir, the book begins with her move to post-war Paris with her husband Paul. She was in her mid-thirties and didn't know anything about French or cooking. The book then follows her growth from a pasadena housewife who could barely cook a meal to the author of the groundbreaking book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II as well as numerous other books and a thoroughly successful cooking show. In fact, though other chefs had attempted cooking shows before her, hers was the first one to reall click...something anyone who has an unhealthy obsession with The Food Network - myself included - should consider!

One of the things that really got to me in this book was Julia's description of the process by which she learned to cook. The apartment she and Paul had in Paris had what could hardly be described as the ideal kitchen for learning the art la cuisine bourgeois (middle class French cooking...what we generally consider "Classic French Food"). This got me to thinking that having a crummy kitchen is no excuse for not cooking and baking. Especially when food is one of my strongest passions. I've cooked food in the dorms before - something sort of thrown together here or something there, nothing really good.

Thanks to Julia Child, however, I've resolved to put that behind me and really commit myself to feeding my passion for being in the kitchen. I'll be adventurous. I'll expand my culinary horizons and take on new and exciting dishes just because I can - in spite of my limitations as a college student living in the Residence Halls.

In putting my foot down on that, I feel like I've made one of those decisions where I'm saying "yes. I AM going to be myself and do what I want to do for myself." I couldn't be more excited.

I'm also going to have to pick up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking...and possibly a DVD box set of The French Chef.