Triumphs Of Gluttony And A Melody In Major: Plum Creams With Almonds And Amaretti

Scorning the table of drinks, glittering with crystal and silver on the right, he moved left towards that of the sweetmeats. Huge sorrel babas, Mont Blancs snowy with whipped cream, cakes speckled with white almonds and green pistachio nuts, hillocks of chocolate-covered pastry… a melody in major of crystallised cherries, acid notes of yellow pineapple, and green pistachio paste of those cakes called ‘Triumphs of Gluttony’.

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

How could anyone resist a cake named ‘triumph of gluttony’ or a heap of cherries described as a ‘melody in major’? It was with thoughts of both triumph and melody that I whipped up my Plum Cream with Almonds and Amaretti. I’m still harvesting plums from the broken branches of my cracked and decimated plum tree and this triumphant melody uses up a whole 600g of them.

Grilling the plums first intensifies their flavour as if by magic. The amaretti biscuits add a perfect bitter-sweetness to the whole confection, while being a fitting tribute to Lampedusa’s Italian heritage. Plum Creams deserve a place on Lampedusa’s table, along with the hillocks of chocolate pastry, even if it’s only in the back row.

Plum creams with almonds and amaretti biscuits

Serves 4-6 depending on your level of gluttony

    • 600g plums
    • 100g vanilla sugar
    • 250g mascarpone
    • 100g creme fraiche
    • Handful split almonds, toasted in a dry frying pan until golden
    • 1 amaretti biscuit per serving

Split the plums in half, removing the stones. Place cut side up in a grill pan and sprinkle with the sugar. Toast for five minutes under a moderate grill until bubbling. Turn off the heat and leave in the oven for a further five minutes until slightly golden brown around the edges. Cool a little and then puree in a blender. Drip through a sieve into a bowl to remove any skin. Allow the puree to cool.

Once cool, mix the puree into the mascarpone. Use an electric mixer if you’re in a hurry. Stir in the creme fraiche. At this stage you may think it’s not quite sweet enough, but the amaretti biscuits bring more than enough extra sweetness to the party. Crumble an amaretti over each serving, along with a sprinkling of toasted almonds. Chill in the fridge for an hour or so.

Plums in Sloe Gin – Where Summer Meets Autumn

My favourite place to walk is on the Dorset coast, from the ruined village of Tyneham, through woods carpeted with wild garlic in the spring, down to the pebbly beach. The abandoned cottages, empty since the government commandeered them in 1943, are still standing, but only just. 

Walking there yesterday with the sun shining and the sea a piercing blue, it felt like the height of summer. But then I passed bushes clustered with huge, ripe, purple sloes, the fruit of autumn. It’s the time of year when summer seeps away almost imperceptibly. Plums may still be ripening in the sun, but the nourishing recipes of autumn are starting to entice. 

The plum tree I planted last year and which produced precisely eight plums, has been showing off like a precocious ballerina this year. But as all show-offs discover, they get their come-uppance in the end. Several of the wildly overladen branches have snapped beneath the weight of the fruit, leaving behind a tree trunk and not much else.

Inspired by the beautiful purple sloes by the sea, I cooked my summer plums in the autumnal sloe gin that I made last year. It’s two seasons on a plate at once.

Plums Baked in Sloe Gin

Serves 4

800g plums, stones removed

100g vanilla sugar

100ml sloe gin – if you can’t find wild sloes in the hedgerow to make your own gin, it’s possible to buy sloe gin online

Combine the fruit, sugar and sloe gin in an ovenproof dish. Cover with foil and bake at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. 

I ate baked plums for breakfast with natural yoghurt and more for lunch on their own. I’ll probably eat them for supper too. 

Plums al cartoccio ….and the great vegetable debt

I’m out of vegetable debt at last. For the first time in my life I’ve grown enough of something to give it away. It may sound like nothing to those of you who only have to wink at a seed packet for vegetables to hop out and do their thing. But I’m not one of those people. Remember my miserable strawberry harvest? And my total courgette output is still stuck at one and a half. But finally, finally I have tomatoes.

The first thing I did was give the tomatoes to my neighbours who’ve been more than generous with radishes, red spring onions, rhubarb and cobnuts this year. Imagine how stunned they were to finally get something back from me when they dropped off a bag of apples this morning.

Flushed with success at finally being vegetable solvent, I also donated two plums from my total crop of eight.

The tree was given to me by friends and quite honestly I’m relieved to have coaxed anything out of it at all. I cooked the six fruit I had left in a suitably grand manner, as befits their very rare, virtually mythic status. Plums in a designer hand-bag.

Plums Al Cartoccio

Enough for 6

For the Hazelnut Biscuit Base:

50g toasted chopped hazelnuts

200g plain flour

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

I egg yolk

130 g slightly salted butter, cut into pieces

60g caster sugar

For the Plums:

9 sweet plums, halved and pitted

1 teaspoon caster sugar – use 2 if you like your puddings on the sweet side

Half teaspoon five spice powder

100ml sweet pudding wine

1 vanilla pod, halved and split

Vanilla ice-cream

‘Al cartoccio’ means ‘in a bag’ but sounds so much better. Cooking plums this way retains their shape and makes the juice extra delicious.

Combine all the ingredients for the hazelnut biscuits in an electric mixer. Once they make a dryish dough, form the mixture into a dumpy roll about 6 cm across, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Put the plums in a double layer of silver foil, and bend the edges up all around to make a water-tight boat. Mix the sugar, sweet wine and five spice powder together and pour all over the plums. Add the vanilla pods to the parcel and pinch the edges together to make a leak-proof bag. Bake in the oven at 175 C for around ten minutes. Open up the bag and put back in the oven for another 5 or 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the plums to sit in the foil, with the liquid. Leave the oven on.

Slice the cold biscuit dough into 6 rounds. Don’t worry if it falls to pieces a little. Just press the biscuits back into shape with your fingers. Place the rounds on baking parchment in a tin. Cook in the oven for ten minutes so that they’re still soft to the touch. Remove the biscuits from the oven and once cool, place on individual plates with 3 plums each, a sloosh of the juice all around and a spoonful of vanilla ice cream on top. In the spirit of the designer handbag, I decided to be a little bit precious and plonk a piece of vanilla pod on top of the whole edifice. ‘Neither use nor ornament’ my Great Aunt would have said, very briskly. But I like the way it looks, so I’m prepared to take the flak.