In 1615, English poet Gervase Markham mentioned 'a prune tart' in his book, The English Huswife. During Tudor times, pastry had evolved from the medieval inedible crust – that was there only to hold a filling – to sweet and savoury pastry one could enjoy as a part of a dish. For these inspired prune tarts, the buttery pastry has to be very thin, making the prunes the star of the show and filling your mouth with a soft puree full of subtle almond flavour and coloring your tongue black.
- 750 g prunes with stones (see Note)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tsbp muscovado sugar or molasses
- 250 g cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 250 g demerara sugar (raw cane sugar)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 eggs
- 500 g plain flour, plus extra, to dust
- ¼ tsp baking powder
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Chilling/soaking time overnight
You will need to begin this recipe 1 day ahead.
To make the pastry, using a wooden spoon, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla until the butter is covered in sugar. Add the flour, cup by cup, and using a blunt knife, combining the mixture by cutting the butter into smaller bits; the mixture will look like breadcrumbs now. Add the eggs and baking powder, and use one of your hands to work it in. Turn the pastry out onto a clean working surface and knead until smooth. Be careful not to overwork the dough, so as soon as it’s combined well, shape into a brick and wrap in cling wrap. Chill in the fridge overnight.
Place the prunes in a bowl and top with enough water to just cover. Soak overnight.
If your prunes have stones, remove and crack with a nut cracker to extract the kernels. The stones are hard, so never mind if you can't get them out. If you do get a couple, add to the prunes when cooking – they will give a wonderful almond flavor. If not, the tart is no less delicious.
Place the prunes, soaking water, kernels, muscovado sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes or until the water is reduced. Drain the prunes, cool, then remove the kernels. Puree the prunes with a blender. If the puree is too runny, return to the saucepan and reduce a bit further. Cool again before further use (it will become more solid when cooled).
Grease 4 x 15 cm tart tins and dust with flour. Cut off a piece of cold pastry roughly the size of a tart tin. It will be very solid, so start by pressing it down with a rolling pin on a generously floured work surface. Transfer the pastry to a sheet of baking paper. Sprinkle the extra flour over the pastry and roll out until 3 mm thick (if the pastry sticks to the rolling pin, add flour so the pastry stays dry).
Cut off the extra pastry so you remain with a circle that is just a few centimetres larger than the tart tin. Gently turn the pastry over the tart tin and let it sink into the shape. Use your fingers to set the pastry into the tin and crimp the edges (don't overwork the pastry as it should remain cool). Transfer the tart shell to the fridge while you make the remaining 3 tart shells.
Preheat the oven to 160ºC.
To make the lattice top, divide the remaining pastry into 4 portions. Roll 1 portion until 3 mm thick. Cut into 1 cm-wide strips and dust with the extra flour. On a sheet of baking paper dusted with flour, create a lattice pattern with the pastry strips. Fill the tart shell with the prune filling. Gently but quickly turn over the lattice top to fit on top of the tart (adjust the strips of pastry so they are straight. Don't worry; if it is your first time it will either look horrible or you will be in luck and it will be quite straight from the first attempt). If creating the lattice top seems daunting, cut out shapes with a cookie cutter to place on top of the prune puree. It can look just as nice. Crimp the edges of the strips, cool in the fridge and proceed the same way with the remaining 3 tart tops.
Bake the tarts for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until nice and brown. Cool the tarts completely in the tins, then serve.
•Prunes with stones are available from selected greengrocers and delis. Substitute pitted prunes.
Recipe from Miss Foodwise by Regula Ysewijn with photographs by Regula Ysewijn.