Of all the plums, the purple quetsch blushed with a slight bloom is the most typical of our three-cornered region of Alsace, Switzerland and Baden. I once read somewhere that André Maurois called them ‘mussel plums’: they’re shaped just like mussels and when you open up the purplish-black fruit you’re rewarded with a flash of deep orangey-yellow flesh – which then turns a dramatic shade of crimson once cooked.
In all three countries the trees are heavy with the black, bloomy fruit just now, and cooks and bakers are licking their lips, sharpening their knives, dusting off their rolling pins and preparing for a feast of tarte aux quetsches, Zwetschgewähe or Zwetschgenkuchen. (There’s one on the cover of my book, A Taste of Switzerland, made for the photograph by my friend Elisabeth Tacier from the plums from her garden at Mont-sur-Rolle down by Lake Geneva.)
Some plum tarts are made on a shortcrust base, others have an almond pastry. A favourite Swiss trick is to sprinkle a layer of ground nuts (almonds, hazelnuts) in the bottom of the pastry to help avoid sogginess. Some cooks add a creamy-eggy custard halfway through baking.
I like to make it like they do in Alsace, using a yeast pastry base which soaks up the copious juices from the plums in a rather gorgeous way and yet is robust and good-natured enough not to go soggy on you. I prefer not to add any creamy-eggy stuff – the fruit has plenty of juice of its own. The result is just pure unadulterated plums, lightly sugared with a good sprinkling of cinnamon – this spice is a typical Dreiländer touch.
You can serve ice cream (vanilla, preferably) with it if you like, though if you were making this in Germany (or Austria), whipped cream would be obligatory. And if you don’t want to bother with yeast pastry (though it’s as easy as…pie), use shortcrust (piecrust), either home-made or the bought, ready-rolled stuff. Avoid puff pastry – it’s too fragile and will make a miserable job of sucking up all those delectable, crimson juices.
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
10g fresh yeast (1/4 of a 40g cube), crumbled, or ½ envelope easy-blend dry yeast (the fine powder, not the little pellets)
1 egg, lightly beaten
75g soft butter
1 kg quetsch plums, halved and stoned
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 a teaspoon cinnamon
- Place the flour, salt, sugar and crumbled fresh or dry yeast in the bowl of the electric mixer or food processor and process or mix well together (or mix in a large bowl with your fingers).
- Warm the milk gently (in a pan or microwave), mix in the egg and butter and add this to the dry ingredients.
- Knead well until the dough starts to clean itself off the sides of the bowl (or turn the dough out of the bowl and knead by hand on a floured working surface until no longer sticky). Add sprinkles of flour if necessary.
- Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and allow dough to rise in the bowl at room temperature until doubled in bulk – about 1 hour.
- Heat the oven to 200oC.
- Flour a working surface and turn out the dough onto it.
- Roll/pat the dough out fairly thickly – this is a lovely rustic, home-made tart, not a delicate pâtissier-type one – to a large circle on a floured board. Lay it in a buttered 30cm quiche pan with removable base and cut or roll away any excess with the rolling pin.
- Mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Arrange the plums in the (raw) pastry shell, cut sides up, propping them upwards, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the plums deeply juicy and swimming in crimson juice.
- Remove tart from the oven and unmould it onto a rack.
- Place on a nice serving dish and just before serving, dredge with icing sugar shaken through a tea strainer – don’t do this too far in advance or the icing sugar will dissolve into the plums and you’ll lose that nice snowy effect.
- Serve at room temperature or chilled, with the option of a blob of whipped cream or ice cream.