Sunday, 29 September 2013

Herta Müller | Plum Frangipane Tart

I admit! Ηers is not a household name and it was only after the awarding of the Nobel prize for literature in 2009 that I heard of her. Herta Müller sets her stories amidst the cruelty and terror of a totalitarian state, usually in Communist Romania under the oppressive regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu. The Land of Green Plums is a novel concerned with displacement and disconnection, with minorisation and isolation as it explores the disruption of normal human relationships resulting from the trauma that the threat of violence causes.
"As I wandered, I didn’t only see the demented and their dried-up belongings. I also saw the guards walking up and down the streets. Young men with yellowish teeth standing guard at the entrances of big buildings, outside shops, on squares, at tramstops, in the scruffy park, in front of the dormitories, in bodegas, outside the station. Their suits fitted them badly; they were either too loose or too tight. They knew where the plum trees were in every precinct they policed. They even took roundabout routes to pass by the plum trees. The boughs drooped. The guards filled their pockets with green plums. They picked them fast, their pockets bulged. One picking was supposed to last them a long time. After they had filled their jacket pockets, they quickly left the trees behind. Plumsucker was a term of abuse. Upstarts, opportunists, sycophants, and people who stepped over dead bodies without remorse were called that. The dictator was called a plumsucker, too.
Hiroshige, Plum Garden
"The young men walked up and down and reached their hands inside their jacket pockets. They took the plums out a fistful at a time, to attract attention less often. Only when their mouths were full could they close their fists.
     Because they took so many plums at once, one or too always fell on the ground or rolled down their sleeves while they ate. The guards kicked the plums that fell on the ground into the grass, like little balls. They fished the other plums from the crooks of their elbows and stuffed them into their already bulging cheeks.
     I saw the foam on their teeth and thought: You can't eat green plums, the pits ate still soft, and you'll swallow your death.
"The plumsuckers were peasants. The green plums made them stupid. They ate themselves away from their duty. They reverted to childhood, stealing plums from village trees. They didn't eat because they were hungry, they just lusted after the sour taste of the poverty which had so recently ruled their lives, a strict father before whom they had cast down their eyes and bowed their heads."
Herta Müller, The Land of Green Plums
At once the forbidden fruit that parents warn their children not to eat because it is poisonous and the object of the police guards' greedy desire, the green plums of the title capture a bleak vision of a totalitarian society in which stupidity and brutality function as parallel forces. Plum-sucking is seen as an act of infantilisation, as regression into childhood and submission to a patriarchal, autocratic figure - a father, a God, a dictator - exercising abuse and making cemeteries without fear of retribution.

~ Plum Frangipane Tart ~

Plums are not my fruit of choice. To borrow Jane Austen's term, it is an 'insipid fruit' at best. But these were surprisingly sweet, I was looking to make a special dessert, and the combination of the autumnal fragrance of plums and the delicate taste of frangipane seemed irresistible. Plum sucking at its innocent!

1 quantity pâte sablée (for a 23cm tart tin)

100g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
2 eggs
100g ground almonds
35g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp brandy or kirsch
900g plums, stoned and quartered (I used Flavour King plums and Marjorie)

150g red plum jam
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1tbsp brandy (or water)

Prepare the sweet pastry crust according to directions in the recipe, but substitute 30g ground almonds for an equal amount of flour and add the grated zest of 1 lemon to the dough.

Lightly butter and line a 23cm round fluted, loose-bottom flan tin with the pastry, prick the bottom with a fork, cover with clingfilm and put back in the fridge for another 30 minutes. To bake blind, cover the sides with foil and place baking parchment on top. Fill this with baking beans and bake on the lower rack of a pre-heated oven at 185 C for 12-15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, but keep the sides covered with foil, and bake in the oven for a further 5-8 minutes until dry and lightly golden.

Remove from the oven and seal with a little beaten egg white while it's still hot.

Lower the oven temperature to 180 C.

Prepare the frangipane: Using a hand-held mixer, beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl for about 1 minute, until the mixture is white and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the almond extract and the brandy or kirsch, then stir in the ground almonds and self-raising flour until you have a thick paste. If the paste is slightly loose, you can add 5-10g of each  ground almonds and self-raising flour. Spoon the frangipane over the biscuit base, spreading it evenly.

Carefully arrange the plum quarters over the filling, starting from the centre and moving outwards, pushing the plum segments slightly in so that their edges point upwards.

Bake for 25 minutes. Scatter the flaked almonds and continue to cook for a further 20-25 minutes or until the frangipane is set and the pastry is lightly golden.

Remove the tart from the oven and, while it's still hot, brush all over with the plum glaze.

Prepare the glaze: Combine the jam, the lemon juice and the brandy or water in a saucepan and warm over medium low heat until the jam melts. Brush all over the fruit while it's still hot.

Update: Plums can release a lot of juice when baked, which adds a lot of moisture to the frangipane. To minimise this effect and also enhance the flavour of not-so-sweet plums, toss them in a little lemon juice and half a tablespoon of vanilla sugar and let them sit in a bowl for about 20-30 minutes to release their juices, while preparing the frangipane. When ready to use them, transfer them to a clean bowl with a slotted spoon, slightly pat them dry with kitchen towel and arrange them over the frangipane.

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