Sunday, September 12, 2010

Plum Tatin & Fair Food Confessions

Let me preface this blog with an admission...I know I tend to rhapsodize on and on about local, fresh food, wine pairings, and all other manners of total snobbery. And yes, I do like all those things. However, when it comes to late summer in Columbia County, there comes a time when that all falls by the wayside. That time is County Fair time. It is ostensibly possible to eat real "food" at the Fair...there are Greek gyros, and BBQ and so on. But for the love of god, that is NOT what a fair is about. For my money, a fair is a chance to people watch that surpasses even Wal Mart on a Saturday morning, hoot and holler at racing pigs and rodeo, and eat anything and everything that can be dumped in a deep fryer.
This year, I went with the firm intentions to do just that, and boy, did I ever. My lust for corn dogs makes no sense even to me, but it does dictate that they be the first thing I eat every year, and that at minimum, it's going to be two. With mustard. And a burned roof of the mouth, because they're thermonuclear, and I can't wait a minute for them to cool. I am not going to quantify everything that was consumed that day, mostly because I don't want to give you future blackmail material, but believe me when I tell you it was too much. Of everything. And that I lay prostrate on the couch that night, desperately wishing that there had been a deep fried Pepto Bismol booth.

That is all a long winded way of saying that this week, my body wanted nothing but fruit and veggies. The mere whiff of fry grease made my stomach clench and had me looking around for a chance to win an enormous plush frog. It was with tremendous relief that I went to the market this Saturday to load up on produce. And while I know that before long, the abundance will taper off as the snap in the air turns into actual cold, that day is not here yet. We're still awash in greens, zucchini, winter squash, root veggies, apples and plums. My body has been happily re-establishing equilibrium with kale, sausage and potato soup this week, and lots of apples and cheddar. And I've been hitting the gym with religious fervor, hoping to work off those deep fried Oreos.

This was the first time I'd bought this particular kind of plum...I believe they're known as Italian plums, and they're longer and more oblong than the average supermarket ones, and while they have a very dusky blue exterior, they have a yellow interior and an almost smoky flavor.

While I'm not usually an enormous fan of making French food myself (who the hell's going to make veal stock? Or confit anything at home?), I'd just been to a particularly inspiring Alsatian wine dinner for work, and was feeling in the mood for something French and plum-y. I was also in the mood for the 1997 Riesling we'd had, but at $80/bottle, I think perhaps that's going to be put off for a bit. (Seriously, though? Best, most complex white wine I've ever had. It was insane. Spinach, blue cheese and walnut all in the a very, very good way.) Anyhoo...after some futzing about in cookbooks, I found that I had everything it took to make a plum tatin, which is sort of a plum upside down cake sort of thing. The traditional recipe involves apples, which I will likely end up doing because I have a metric shit ton of them, and this is terribly easy to do. So without further ado....
Plum Tatin
(bastardized from Ina Garten)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the dish
8-10 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or cognac, if you have it. I was feeling a bit French, and for reasons we won't go into here, always have a lot of Hennessy around.)
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9-inch pie (or Pi!) dish and arrange the plums in the dish, cut side down.

  • Combine 1 cup of the sugar and 1/3 cup of water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it turns a warm amber color. This will be easier to determine if you use a light colored saucepan, but if not, keep a close eye. And if you're really anal, it'll be about 360 degrees on a candy thermometer . This takes a while, but once it's almost ready, the difference between heaven and burnt to shit sugar is seconds, so don't leave it unattended. And for some reason, don't STIR this mixture...just swirl it about. I don't know why, it just says so in every recipe, and I am a rule follower.
  • Pour amber-y, molten liquid over plums.
  • Meanwhile, cream the 6 tbsp of butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar in your ever-ready stand mixer (or whatever) until light and fluffy.
  • Lower the speed and add the eggs one at a time.
  • Add sour cream, zest and vanilla or cognac and mix until combined.
  • In a s small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and with the mixer on low, add it to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.
  • Pour the cake batter evenly over the plums and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the cake part comes out clean.
  • Cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a flat plate. This always terrifies me, and isn't always successful, but this time, it worked out fine.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Gild the damn lily with vanilla ice cream or whipping cream.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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