A Baker’s Tale and Double Plum Crostata
Long before I knew the difference between roasting and braising, before I could turn out a silky béchamel without so much as a peak in a cookbook, before I could grill a whole fish, beady little eyes and all.
Before. I was a baker.
Cookies, too many varieties to list or count. A few cakes. Simple sheet cakes glazed with a powdered sugar icing before they had time to cool. Banana walnut cake with browned butter icing. Or a German chocolate cake. Just once a year. On my birthday. Licking coconut pecan frosting off the spoon. Holiday nutrolls, Aunt Flossie’s poundcake, raspberry squares, Angel food strudel.
I knew little of techniques and ratios or the chemistry of leavening. I creamed some butter and sugar, always by hand, never with a mixer. Added an egg. Or two. A splash of vanilla here. A pinch of salt there. Pecans? Chocolate chips? Coconut? Maybe, no, yes. More. Again!
It wasn’t about the way the ingredients came together. This I knew even back then when I was just a little girl trying to please her mother with every scrape of the cumbersome mixing bowl. No, it was the way that the women I loved most in my world came together over a warm oven in a manner we couldn’t manage in any other facet of our lives. It was uncomplicated, the baking that is, as long as everything was done per mom’s instructions and no mistakes were made. There were stories; there was laughter; there was love. It wasn’t always, if ever, this idyllic, really, but that’s the way I like to remember it. The love.
I stopped baking somewhere in my early twenties. Somewhere between losing my virginity and losing my dad. It became complicated, the baking, maybe even tainted. The memories became painful. I was alone in an unfamiliar kitchen. And the love I carried was lost or maybe just buried. It didn’t happen with a dramatic thud. I barely noticed, because I still found myself most often in the kitchen; in baking’s wake, I discovered cooking.
I moved around plenty for a decade or so. New schools. New jobs. New men. New kitchens. New recipes. I traced a path from Pittsburgh to Gainesville, from Greenville, SC to Chicago and cooked my way from my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book to Escoffier. I was many things to many people. And to no one at all, I was myself. I was not a baker. I could no longer be relied on for the sweet ending.
I simmered for a long time.
And somewhere between losing my mom and gaining a fantastic husband with an insatiable sweet tooth, I began baking again. There’s more; I’ll save that for another time. Today, new stories are shared as friends and family gather in my kitchen. And there is laughter. And love.
I am a baker. And this is my favorite summer tart. Please make it with love.
Double Plum Crostata
Your favorite prepared pastry crust (These days I’m partial to making my pie crusts with whole wheat pastry flour, but all-purpose works fine too.)
1 pint of plums (1-1.25 pounds), pitted and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar (less if your plums are on the sweet side)
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup dried plums, roughly chopped (Raisins are nice too.)
2 tablespoons flour
zest from one lemon
- Toss ingredients together in a bowl and allow the sugar to dissolve a bit while you prepare the pastry crust.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Roll dough into a 13″ diameter circle and transfer it to a baking sheet. (I roll mine directly on parchment paper or a Silpat.)
- Pile the plum mixture in the center of the dough. Allow a clean, 2-inch border all around.
- Fold the edges of dough up and over the plum mixture, leaving a 6-inch opening in the center.
- Gently press the dough to hold it in place.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the plum filling is bubbly.
- Share it with someone you love.