Greengage tart does sound so much nicer in French: Tarte aux Reine Claudes. In France, greengages are named in honour of the French queen Claude (1499-1524) who was also Duchess of Brittany. They came originally from the Middle East and were brought to England from France in 1724 by Sir William Gage, who, as you can guess, gave them their English name, green being added to ‘Gage’ due to their colour. I used to make this tart a lot years ago and dug out an old favourite cookbook for the recipe, The Roux Brothers on Patisserie, which was a birthday present to me from my brothers back in 1987.
It’s one of those classic cookbooks that is as relevant today as when it was published. I often find recipes in my old cookbooks a bit outdated but I still believe that you can’t do better than turning to the Roux brothers for a classic patisserie recipe.
I had Jonathan, Lyndsey and Freddie coming to supper. Jonathan and Lyndsey are on ‘holiday at home’ this week and off to Cornwall for a week tomorrow. Usually we can only get together for meals at the weekend because of work hours, but tonight was a chance to get together for a meal before they go away. I’d bought some greengages a couple of days ago. I’d seen them in a supermarket and like them so much, I couldn’t resist buying them. These little green plums have a sweet, honey flavour with a touch of citrus acidity; when ripe and soft they are wonderfully juicy.
So many things are available all year round now but greengages seem to be one of those things that are available for just a short season of the year, which makes them all the more special. They’re delicious raw but once I knew the family were coming round for a meal, it seemed a good idea to make this gorgeous tart for them.
I’ve used old imperial measurements as that’s what is in the book. It does have some metric conversions but I could see they didn’t match up properly, e.g. the metric for the pastry gives exactly half as much butter but the original (and the imperial would have been the original at this time) isn’t quite that, it’s 9:4. Hopefully you have digital scales like me which will allow you to change the unit. I made a couple of very slight changes but essentially it’s the Roux recipe.
Tarte aux Reine Claudes
- about 1lb greengages
- a little caster sugar
Pâte à Foncer
- 9oz plain flour
- 4oz butter
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 3 egg yolks
- 2oz caster sugar
- 1 heaped teaspoon cornflour or custard powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
- 9 fl oz milk
- 2 tablespoons apricot jam
- a dash of water
Heat the oven to 220C/200 Fan/Gas 7. Cut the greengages in half, remove the stone, and put them skin-side down on a baking sheet. Sprinkle over about a tablespoonful of caster sugar. Put in the oven for 5 minutes so they start to soften. Remove from oven and keep aside.
Make the pastry. Now I like to make pastry by hand for a special meal or when I have time because I believe it comes out better. But you can use a food processor if you prefer. The hand method is this:
Sift the flour onto a cold surface. Make a well in the middle and add the butter in pieces, the egg and the sugar. Start mixing together with your fingers and gradually pull in the flour from the edge, starting to gently knead as you go. When all is coming together, sprinkle over the water. Knead briefly – never overwork pastry – then flatten the ball of dough slightly, cover in clingfilm and put in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Lightly grease a flan tin (10 inches/26 cm), sift in a little flour, shake to cover the bottom and sides and tip out excess. This stops the flan sticking to the bottom.
Roll out the pastry and fit into the prepared flan tin. Return to the fridge while you make the crème pâtissière.
Put the egg yolks and about a third of the sugar in a bowl and whisk until pale. Stir in the cornflour (or custard powder) and vanilla. Heat the milk until it comes to the boil and slowly add to the egg mix, beating as you go. Transfer back to a clean pan and cook over a moderate heat until it thickens and allow to boil gently for about a minute (the flour will stabilise it, so it shouldn’t separate).
Tip the custard into a fresh bowl and allow to cool, stirring occasionally so a skin doesn’t form. Then spread across base of the flan case. Now carefully transfer the greengages from the baking tray on to the custard, putting them cut-side down.
Put the tart into the hot oven (220C/200 Fan/Gas 7) for about 25 minutes. Remove when pastry and greengages are golden brown. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes in the tin and then carefully remove and slide on to a cooling rack. However! – if like me you couldn’t find (or haven’t got) a loose-bottomed flan tin and only have a solid-base one, then I suggest just leaving it in the tin. It’s far too fragile (unless you’re really out to impress) to risk trying to get it out.
While the tart cools, prepare the glaze by gently heating the jam and a splash of water in a small pan until it begins to boil. Sieve into a small bowl and then paint over the flan with a pastry brush.
This is a tart to be served at room temperature – not hot or warm, so ideal for making ahead. I served it with Cornish clotted cream – quite an indulgence and normally I’d buy just some single cream, but I know my son loves clotted cream and as they’re off to Cornwall tomorrow, I thought it would make an early start to Cornish treats. And really, as far as cream goes, it’s the queen of creams; absolutely wonderful.
It’s a delicious tart: I love the slight tartness of the greengages with the sweet pastry cream; the pastry itself had just the right amount of crispiness at the edges but was firm enough to hold the filling. It was a great dessert for a family meal but you can raise the stakes and serve it at a posh dinner party. Everyone will love it!