Thursday, 11 September 2014

Greengage Custard Tart

I have fallen completely in love with greengages – a variety of plum which possess a beautiful sweetness. Greengages are considered a dessert plum and can be eaten raw, but I find that they really come into their own when cooked or baked. This makes them perfect for using in cakes, tarts and a whole range of other recipes.

When cooked, greengages are still succulent and, as already mentioned, their natural sweetness is enhanced, but they don’t release excessive juice that adversely affects the cake or tart in which they are baked.

One of the most attractive qualities of greengages is their colour, which can range from golden yellow to an iridescent green, like the ones that I purchased recently and are in the photos accompanying this post.

Greengages are extremely popular in France, but can be difficult enough to get your hands on in conventional supermarkets in Ireland. Luckily my local farmers’ market had some, so not being familiar with them and feeling a little adventurous, I snapped up a large quantity. I can truly say that I was impressed with them and thought they had a refinement about them that ordinary plums don’t necessarily have.

Greengages thrive in temperate climates and can be grown very successfully in Ireland provided you have a sheltered spot. They don’t tend to be grown commercially on a large scale, but are more often found in a domestic setting.

With my newly discovered enthusiasm for this beautiful fruit, I think that I would definitely love to plant a few trees and a visit to a few garden centre and nurseries looks like it will soon be on the cards. Apparently greengage jams and compotes are incredibly delicious so rather than have to go on the hunt for the fruit when it is in season, it would be wonderful to be able to go out to my back garden and pick fruit from my own trees.

The recipes that I recently posted for financiers and friands used quite a large number of egg whites, which meant that I have had quite a few yolks left over. Keen to use up some of these I decided that for my first greengage ‘experiment’ I would make a custard tart into which I would set the greengages. To be honest, this is merely a variation of a custard tart that I often make using other stone fruits. I have successfully made it using peaches, plums, cherries and apricots, so rather than overcomplicate matters I opted to make a greengage version. It was absolutely heavenly. The silky, just-set custard with the baked greengages slightly caramelised at the edges on a crisp pastry base was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten – it truly was!

Although I have made a classic custard, simply flavoured with the seeds of a vanilla pod, other flavours could be added. I think that ginger would work particularly well with the greengages, so the next time I make this tart, I think that I will infuse the custard with a little preserved stem ginger or alternatively I might use some ground ginger in the pastry.

I served the finished tart completely cooled, but not chilled – this meant that the custard was velvety smooth and had a subtlety of taste that still remained but would have been lost had it been served chilled. This tart is better eaten on the day that it is made, but if you do want to store it in the fridge I strongly recommend that you allow it to come back up to room temperature.

I chose to serve the tart as it was, without any accompaniments, as I really felt that it was rich enough without adding whipped cream or ice-cream on the side.


Ingredients:

Pastry:
175g plain flour
50g icing sugar
100g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1tblsp water
To grill the greengages:
8-10 greengages, halved and stoned
2tblsp caster sugar
A little lightly beaten egg white to seal the pastry
Custard:
1 large egg + 3 yolks
50g caster sugar
The seeds from 1 vanilla pod or 1tsp of vanilla extract
250ml double cream
100ml milk
 

Method:

Pastry:
1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the diced butter and using your fingertips, rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and water. Using a fork, mix everything until it comes together into a dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.
To blind-bake the pastry:
3. Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5.
4. Roll out the pastry thinly to a thickness of about 4mm and use to line a 23cm round x 4cm deep tart tin with removable base. Place on a large baking tray.
5. Prick the pastry several times with a fork and then place some crumpled non-stick baking parchment on the pastry. Fill with baking beans and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the baking parchment and baking beans and brush the pastry with some of the beaten egg-white. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
6. Remove the blind-baked pastry base from the oven and set aside to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 140C/Fan Oven 130C/Gas Mark 1.
To grill the greengages:
7. Put the temperature on your grill up to the highest setting.
8. Place all the greengages, cut side up on a small baking tray and sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of caster sugar. Place under the grill for 5 minutes until the sugar melts and is starting to caramelise on the greengages. Remove from the grill and set aside to cool.
Custard:
9. In a medium sized mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and seeds from the vanilla pod together until pale and creamy and the sugar has dissolved. Slowly add the cream and milk. Pass through a sieve into a clean jug.
To finish:
10. Place the grilled greengages, slightly overlapping and cut side up in the blind-baked pastry shell. Carefully pour in the custard and bake in the preheated oven for 45-55 minutes.
11. The tart is ready when the custard is almost set, but still has a very slight wobble in the centre (it will continue cooking as it cools). Remove from the oven and allow to cool. As the tart is baked at a low temperature, the custard will barely colour and will merely be a cream colour

Serves 8.