One of my favorite children’s songs was about plums (another one was about baking pepperkakkor – I seem to have been food focused from a very early age). It goes roughly like this (my apologies for making absolutely no attempts at rhyming in the translation):
“If you had a thousand plums, you could eat them all year long. If you had a hole in your pocket, you could scratch yourself on the thigh. I do not have a thousand plums, nor a hole in my pocket. I have only good humor, and I can scratch myself when I itch.”
To my adult mind the song sounds pretty weird. But as a child, there was something so appealing about the idea of having a secret hole in your pocket, and having an awesomely towering pile of perfectly juicy, midnight purple plums from which you could eat all that you wanted, the red juice trickling all down over your face and fingers.
This is a decadent time of year in the market, when the stone fruits are all ripe and fleshy and ridiculously luxurious (and messy!) to eat. I love them all. I love that you have to stand over a sink to eat a good stone fruit. And don’t wear a white shirt. But, I didn’t used to be so all-encompassing in my stone fruit love. I used to be put-off by the fuzziness of peaches and apricots (what was wrong with me?!). I liked nectarines, but they left strings in my teeth. Plums, on the other hand, were my perfection. They were sugary sweet, drippy-messy, and you could easily eat five in a sitting, provided that you hid the pits to conceal the evidence from your mother. So, my love affair with plums has been a long one. And seriously, could it be a coincidence that the word “plum” also means “good” or “highly desirable”? I think not.
I rarely think to cook with fruit, unless I’m making a pie. I haven’t even tried grilling peaches yet, though it’s high on my list of “gosh I really wish I were eating that right now, maybe I should actually try making it” foods. So, what inspired me to start roasting plums, I’m not entirely certain. It was probably just an unconscious desire to eat plum pie without making pie crust. But the fact of the matter is, while fruits are like a gustatory gift to humankind requiring nothing to make them palatable besides biting into them, roasting them brings them to a new dimension, mellowing out tang, deepening flavors, and making them meltingly tender and sweet. It turns them into dessert, basically. Plums are no exception, and the roasting also turns them a brilliant Valentine’s Day red.
My grandmother used to make a dessert of stewed prunes and cream, which made me think that I should add something creamy to my roasted plums (okay, in all honestly, it never takes extra coaxing for me to add something involving cream to anything I make, but I still like to think that this is somehow an updated version of my grandmother’s dish). Instead of making whipped cream, the idea of a thick cool pool of creamy crème Anglaise would be the perfect complement to the warm plums. In another moment of inspiration, I decided to take a lesson from a pudding custard, made by Andreas Viestad, flavored with bay leaf and to try using bay leaf in the crème Anglaise. Though bay leaf is usually the go-to for savory stews and soups, it has a subtle spicy sweetness that works beautifully in a rich just barely sweet, creamy sauce.
Of course, not every day is a day for churning out crème Anglaise (actually, unfortunately few days are), so if you don’t feel like cooking a sauce for the plums, I discovered that a couple of dollops of thick Greek yogurt, flavored with honey and just a pinch of sage is a lovely and easy alternative.
Roasted Plums with Bay-leaf Crème Anglaise or Honey-sage Yogurt (serves 6)
- 12 small sweet plums of your favorite variety (if the plums are large, just use 6)
- 2-3 tablespoons packed, dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped, roasted hazelnuts (for topping)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 bay leaves (dried or fresh will work)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
(alternative topping) Honey-sage Yogurt:
- 1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
- ¼ cup honey
- ½-1 tsp. ground sage
First make the Creme Anglaise. In a small saucepan, bring cream, milk, ¼ cup of the sugar and bay leaves to a simmer. Remove from the heat. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks and other ¼ cup sugar until well combined. In a slow, thin stream, whisk the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture. Scrape this back into your saucepan and return to low heat. Stir constantly until the custard thickens and the stirring spoon leaves a little trail (should just take a couple of minutes). Remove from heat and remove the bay leaves. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the crème and chill until ready to use. Strain before using.
Alternatively, make the honeyed yogurt by stirring all the honey-sage yogurt ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Next, roast the plums. Preheat your oven to 400F. Wash the plums, halve them and remove their pits. Lay the plums cut sides up in a baking dish and sprinkle the brown sugar over their surfaces. Bake for about 20 minutes until quite tender when pricked with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Divide the plums into 6 dessert bowls. Spoon the crème anglaise (or yogurt) on top and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. Enjoy!