Whether you’re shopping at a major grocery store or a local farmer’s market, in early summer, there are a wealth of fresh, ripe fruits to choose from. Having such a bounty of fruits is not a bad thing – and I find that it makes me even more creative in the kitchen because I don’t want to use all of those fruits in the same old desserts. Instead of making endless fruit cobblers (which still isn’t a bad thing!), I make all kinds of shortcakes, tarte tatins, pies and tarts. These Plum Meringue Tarts are a new favorite and an elegant – yet very easy to make – way to serve up some fresh plums.
The tarts have a crisp crust and are filled with a sweet-tart plum mixture that is bursting with fruit. There are roughly 2 whole plums in each tart! It is also bursting with a vibrant burgundy color that is a stunning contrast to the billowing white meringue on top of the filling. The tarts look very dramatic (especially if you choose to pile the meringue up fairly high, as I did) and have a wonderful balance of flavors and textures. The meringue is fully cooked before it goes onto the tart, but I like to brown it in the oven or with a kitchen torch to give it a nice finished look.
I used a buttery pie dough for the crust on these tarts. Crisp and flaky, it is a nice contrast to the rich fruit and cloud-like meringue. Other types of tart crust can work just as well, and an Almond Shortcrust would be an excellent alternative if you want a little variety. I made four 4-inch tarts with my dough, but this recipe can easily be scaled up if you need to make more tarts. It can also be scaled down to make smaller, bite-sized tarts by simply putting the crust into smaller shells and reducing the baking time as needed to make sure the shells are golden and not overcooked.
The filling is very juicy and can make the pastry lose some of its crispness if it is stored for a long time. The tart shells can be prepared well in advance, but I recommend assembling the final desserts and making the meringue within a few hours of the time you want to serve them for the best results.
Plum Meringue Tarts
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, cold and cut into a few pieces
3-4 tbsp ice water
8 ripe plums
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp Amaretto or 1/4 tsp almond extract
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Make the crust: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Rub in butter with you fingertips until the mixture is sandy and no pieces larger than a big pea remain. Add ice water and stir with a fork until the dough starts to come together into a ball. If dough is too sticky, add a little extra flour. If dough is too dry to come together easily, add a little extra water. This can also be done in the food processor.
Transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap or a small plastic bag and flatten into a disc. Chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is in a round large enough to fill a 4-inch tart shell.
Transfer dough to the shell and press firmly into the corners and flutes of the pan. Cut off excess pastry. Repeat with remaining dough and tart pans.
Dock the base of the tarts with a fork, line with a piece of parchment paper and fill with beans, rice or pie weights.
Bake for 12 minutes, then remove the pie weights and bake for 12-16 more minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before filling.
Make the Filling
Cut plums in half and remove the pits. Dice the plums, but do not remove their skins.
Combine diced plums with sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved the the liquid starts to release from the plums. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the plums are very tender.
In a small bowl, whisk together water and cornstarch. Add to plum mixture and continue to cook until the plum compote thickens, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and Amaretto (or almond extract).
Allow to cool completely.
Make the Meringue
In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and boil hard for about 90 seconds, until the sugar is producing large bubbles.
When the sugar has almost started to boil, beat the eggs until foamy in a large bowl. Beat to very soft peaks. When the sugar is cooked, slowly drizzle the hot sugar into the eggs while beating the mixture on low speed, tempering the meringue. Continue until all of the sugar syrup is added. Increase speed to high and beat until stiff peaks have formed and the meringue is at room temperature, 3-5 minutes.
Divide the compote evenly into the prepared, cooled tart shells.
Top each tart with meringue, either by dolloping it on and spreading it out with an offset spatula or by piping it on with a piping bag (or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off). Make sure to spread it all the way to the edge of the crust, so the filling is covered. Brown the meringue with a kitchen torch or by putting the tarts on a baking sheet and putting them under the broiler for a couple of minutes.
Serve within a few hours of assembly.