Plum Rose Shortbread Tart: A Culinary Aesthetic Homage to England

This blog is usually not a food blog, or at least not a recipe blog. But last Friday I conjured up something so spectacular, and so far removed from any existing recipe I’ve seen that it would be a disgrace not to share it with you here. Sorry for the mixing of units and measurement systems. This is what happens when you move every year!

The recipe has three components:

Shortbread Crust

Roses made from plums

The glaze

hurry, while supplies last!

In that order…

For the crust, you will need:

250g Butter (about two sticks)

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

First beat together the butter and the sugar. You could probably use an electric mixer, although at that level of mechanisation, I can no longer guarantee your results. I used two knives followed by a potato masher. A proper pastry cutter would probably be equivalent.

Having done this, you should now gradually stir in the flour. You will almost certainly need to get your hands all greasy and nasty for this part, as the thickness of the dough will foil even the most forceful utensil. Even when well-mixed, the dough will be crumbly — you must resist the temptation to add more liquid!

Once all the flour has been worked through, you can start to spread out the dough in your greased or parchment-lined pan. Start by taking large chunks of the dough and flattening them out in the pan. Then graft on smaller bits by smushing them onto the edge of the dough already in the pan. The crust will expand a bit as it bakes, so feel free to spread it thin.

Put the pan in the oven at gas mark 5 (about 375 Fahrenheit) for around 10 minutes, or until the edges turn ever so slightly brown. When it’s done, set aside to cool

For the plums…

This might seem like the hardest part, requiring very high-level culinary training. Rest assured, however; the only requisite characteristics are opposable thumbs and reasonably developed motor skills.

How many plums you need will depend in part on how many  roses you want to make, and how large the roses will be. For the 5 roses on mine (picture below), I used 3 1/2 plums.

Begin by slicing the plum down the middle and removing the pit. Then, take each half, and cut the whole thing into thin slices (which direction doesn’t matter, as plums are essentially spherical).

IMPORTANT: You will not actually be forming the roses until it’s time to set them in the glaze, but you should practice making a few now as you will need to work quickly and it helps to have already practiced the technique for rose-making.

To form a rose, begin by taking one of the smallest slices of plum (i.e. not the ones from the middle); curl it as tightly as possible, and then wrap a slightly larger plum slice around it. Repeat. Repeat. Etc.

That wasn’t so hard was it?

Now, to the glaze…

1 1/3 cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup water

Put the milk in a pan and start it on low heat. While it’s warming up, mix together the sugar, cornstarch and water in a separate bowl. Whisk carefully but vigorously until the dry ingredients are completely absorbed, keeping an eye the whole time on the milk. You don’t need me to tell you that the milk should not be allowed to boil, but you will want to see some steam coming off it before you proceed. Once it is steaming, start whisking it and slowly pour in the contents of the other bowl. Continue whisking.

You might need to turn the heat up a bit to reach the crucial point. What is this crucial point? The crucial point is when the whole mixture begins to thicken and then starts to look translucent. Quickly turn the heat off, and pour the glaze onto the shortbread crust. Spread it evenly, but don’t waste too much time on its  precise distribution as you’ll need to work quickly on the next part.

It’s time to make roses! You’ll will proceed as above, inserting each ‘layer’ of rose into the still malleable glaze before wrapping the next slice around it, working your way outward until the rose is a size that pleases you. The glaze will be all the while thickening, but you should have 5-10 minutes before the glaze stiffens to the point where it becomes difficult to put in more plum slices.

I would recommend putting the tart in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving (I waited about 6 hours). Depending on how long you will wait before serving it, you might want to spritz the plum-roses with a bit of lemon or lime to keep them from browning.

You are now ready to serve this extraordinarily wondrous treat!

Me with my beautiful creation

Me with my beautiful creation

Here are just a few optional tips:

I did not have rose water on hand when I made this, but if I make it again, I will use it. I imagine it would be quite nice to add some to the glaze right before you take it off the hob and spread it on the shortbread.

This recipe could probably be replicated with other stone fruits of similar consistency. I used plums because they were what I had and they seemed a good colour for mimicking roses.

If you really want to simulate the flower look, you could add some fresh mint around the roses. I think I’ll try that next time…

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