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Summertime Eats: Pflaumenkuchen – Plum Tart a Loving Tradition

September 2nd, 2009 · 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of guest blogs on summertime food memories. If you’d like to submit yours, click on the Contact button at the top of the page to email me about a personal experience with foods of the summer.

maureen-plumtart

Pflaumenkuchen

By Maureen Clancy, Guest columnist

MClancy

Maureen Clancy

Pflaumenkuchen. I was flummoxed by the very sound of the word. Yet the syllables tripped off the tongue of the woman patting out the pie crust as easily as shiny little pebbles slipping downstream.

I had been dating a charming “Virginia Gentleman,” called “T” by his friends, for less than a month when he invited me to visit his parents’ home one late-August weekend. Little did I know that I’d marry him 11 months later. Little did I know that I’d get a fabulous Pflaumenkuchen recipe in the deal.

Seasonal plums make the dish

Pflaumen (rhymes with plowmen) is the German word for prune plums. Kuchen means cake, though this creation is more of a tart. Also known as Italian prune plums, these precious nuggets are available for a very brief period — two or three weeks max each summer, in late August and early September.

Italian prune plums

Italian prune plums

They’re the size of a baby’s fist, slightly egg-shaped, with blue-purple skin, freestone pits (which separate easily) and yellowish flesh. Though they’re tasty eaten out of hand, prune plums are best cooked or baked, when they become soft, jammy and fragrant, with nicely caramelized edges.

But, back to Carola Shiftan, who was born in a tiny village in East Germany and arrived in the United States towards the end of WWII, a few years before her son Thomas was born. She was an elegant woman with a warm, welcoming personality and an exotic (to me) accent. She liked to cook and bake, and had an impressive cookbook collection.

A different culture

As a 20-year-old born-and-bred Bostonian, I knew little about European cuisines and even less about the guttural German language. But I watched and listened, fascinated, as she mixed a few ingredients in a bowl, lined a pie plate with the dough, and laid little purple plum slices neatly and tightly, side by side, like a Rockettes chorus line.

When she died, just four months after our July 1969 wedding, I was given her well-worn Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes I and II.They were my introduction to the wonderful world of Julia Childs.

But more importantly, on a faded piece of yellow legal paper folded up inside one of those books, I got the recipe for Pflaumenkuchen.

Tart now a summer tradition

During the 40 years since then, my husband and I have awaited the end of August like little kids await Santa. I try to make the simple little tart several times during the “season,” and I just about cry the day I visit the market and find that the plums are gone.

The Mürbeteig (loosely translated as “sweet dough”) is what the French would call pate brisee, but with a lot more sugar and butter. In fact, there’s so much butter involved that I have to use the little silver pie weights when I blind-bake the shell, or it will puff like puff pastry.

After that, all that’s left to do is slice the plums, arrange them in concentric circles, sprinkle them with a bit of sugar and breadcrumbs (Progresso Plain is fine) and dot with a few more bits of butter.

Pflaumenkuchen is the epitome of summer food, the very essence of “eating seasonally.” And in our house, it brings a dearly-missed loved one back to the table every time we make it.

* * *

Here’s my mother-in-law’s recipe. I’m pretty casual about amounts of ingredients. Experiment and use what works best for you.

Pflaumenkuchen

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar plus 2 teaspoons
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 stick butter, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water, as needed
  • About 16 Italian prune plums
  • 2 teaspoons plain breadcrumbs

Equipment:10-inch fluted tart pan with removeable bottom

Place flour, sugar, salt and butter pieces into a food processor, reserving 4 or 5 little pieces of butter for later. Process in short bursts until mixture starts to have the texture of oatmeal. Add egg yolk and continue to process in short bursts until dough starts to come together in a ball. Add ice water, as necessary, to facilitate this.

Remove from food processor. Form gently into a ball; dust with flour. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Roll out dough when it’s firm, patting it into a 10-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Blind bake the pastry shell, filling with pie weights, at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until done.

In the meantime, wash, pit and cut each Italian prune plum into 6 or 8 pieces. Arrange them in pie tart in concentric circles. (If you run out, you can use a row of sliced peaches, nectarines or another type of plum.) Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and extra sugar. Dot with leftover butter bits. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes, until plums are soft and jammy.

Best eaten warm, but keeps, refrigerated and covered, for several days.

Maureen Clancy spent 27 years as Food Editor, Food Columnist and Restaurant Critic for the San Diego Union and the San Diego Union-Tribune; has written restaurant guides, cookbooks and done radio and more. She lives with her family in Southern California where she still writes about food and restaurants. Read her entertaining, well-written blog at www.MaureenClancy.com

Tags: Food People · Recipes: What's Cooking!

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 AJZ // Jul 27, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    First of all, Germans do NOT use ice water, it’s NOT necessary when making this Pflaumenkuchen.
    Second, the German language is NOT gutteral, obviously you never heard anyone speak it. What’s gutteral is Russian, Arabian, Hebrew, and several slavic languages you probably never even heard of.

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