almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote

almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table

One of the things I love exploring on this blog is using grains and flours of all sorts of kinds in my recipes. The options are endless, from wheat to kamut and from savory to sweet!  Maria Speck does just the same with her food with passion and her love for whole grains shows. 

Maria's latest book Simply Ancient Grains focuses on cooking whole grain is a spectacular treat> Not only does she include a variety of grains in her book but she eloquently includes them in a refreshing collection of unique dishes that are flavorful and as delicious as they sound. There are rye waffles with parmesan and rosemary, red rice shakshuka and feta, a teff polenta verde, a freekeh soup with spicy harissa, shrimp and dates, jugu cakes (an African-Indian peanut biscotti) and many more such delicious treats to cook at home and enjoy! Maria also shares several helpful tips and ideas on how to plan meals for days ahead for busy weeks that I found really useful.

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, Maria will also be signing copies of her new book in the last week of May but she's also going to visit several other cities around the country and you can find her entire book tour schedule here. The best part, she's even cooking and serving up treats from her book at some of these spots! 

I selected this sweet honey flavored polenta tart to share with you from her book. It's a unique way to look at tart crusts! I find the soft texture of corn in polenta to be very comforting and how it would taste in a tart had me rather curious. So I had to try this recipe out. The flavors in this dessert are simple yet stand out elegantly. There's honey and butter glazed layer of sweet almonds that give a toffee like flavor along with with a delicious cinnamon and thyme flavored fresh plum compote that's served over the polenta tart. A little whipped cream or creme fraîche on the side and it's perfect with a glass of white wine or champagne (which is my drink of choice). 

almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing this dish,

  • I don't have a ceramic tart pan but my metal one worked fine. Just grease the pan well before baking.
  • I used slivered almonds instead of the original sliced almonds as listed in the recipe, mostly because I ran out of them. They work great but note that the texture of the tart will be different.
  • I used lemon thyme over regular thyme in the recipe because I grow some in a container on my terrace. It gives a little hint of citrus to the plums.
  • I like creme fraîche over whipped cream to serve with most desserts but you can go with either. 
  • To prepare the tart before baking, I've listed two ways to do it. One involves spreading the polenta with a wet spoon while the other involves pressing it down with the flat side of a measuring cup and clingfilm (which I used). Both are easy to do. 
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table

almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote 

(from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck)

yields: 8 servings


for the polenta 

2 cups water

1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 cup (150g) polenta, preferably medium grind

for the compote and to finish

2 pounds fresh plums, pits removed and cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces (if plums are small cut into wedges)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons honey, or more as needed

1/4 cup dry sherry or apple juice

1 tablespoon brandy (optional)

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme)

4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, preferably the European-style

1 cup sliced almonds ( I used slivered)

softly whipped lightly sweetened heavy cream for serving for serving (optional) /creme fraîche can also be substituted

1. To prepare the polenta, add the water, milk, honey and salt to a large heavy saucepan, heat on medium-high and bring to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. Using a large whisk, add the polenta in a slow and steady thin stream and continue t whisk for 1 minute. Reduce the heat if the mixture starts to bubble profusely. Reduce the heat further, cover the saucepan with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon every few minutes to prevent the polenta from sticking to the bottom. Remove the saucepan from the stove and let it sit, covered for 10 minutes, stirring well once or twice. 

2. Butter a 10 inch tart pan and place it on a wire rack. Transfer the polenta to the pan and spread evenly to form a smooth layer. You can dip a wooden spoon in cold water and then spread the mixture. The other way to do this, is to place a large sheet of clingfilm over the polenta in the pan and using the flat base of a measuring cup spread the mixture out evenly in a layer. Set the prepared tart pan aside to firm for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Prick the surface of the polenta with the round end of a spoon about 12 times by inserting the spoon at a 45 degree angle into the tart. Dip the spoon in cold water between each insertion to prevent sticking. This will allow even baking of the tart and prevent heaving during baking.  

3. To bake the tart, place a wire rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F.

4. While the oven preheats, prepare the plum compote. Add the plums to a large mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of honey, sherry, brandy and 1 tablespoon of thyme.  Toss gently to combine, taste and add more honey if desired. Cover and chill to macerate, stirring gently once or twice. (I left it to chill for about two hours)

5. Add the butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey to a medium skillet. Heat on medium and stir occasionally with a spoon until blended. Fold in the almonds and stir until the almonds are coated and the mixture starts to foam, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately spread the almonds on the surface of the polenta, using the back of the spoon. 

6. Bake the prepared tart for about 20 minutes until the small bubbles appear around the edges and the almonds turn a glistening golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes to allow to set before cutting. 

7. To serve the tart, cut it into 8 wedges with a sharp serrated knife. Place each wedges on a dessert plate and spoon a generous amount of the prepared chilled compote with a little bit of the juices on top. Garnish each serving with a little fresh thyme leaves and if desired a little bit of a dollop of the whipped cream. 

chai stone fruit oat bran brown betty

chai stone fruit oat bran betty

I ate a lot of fruit as a kid, I would have gladly skipped a meal to eat fresh fruit. Not that I was a fussy kid when it came to food but I think it probably frustrated the heck out of my poor mother. In Bombay, the weather is generally warm year round and there is always an abundance of some delicious seasonal sort of fruit. Unfortunately, unless you had your own farm or your own fruit tree, you really didn't have much of an opportunity to pick fruit fresh of the tree. Believe me I tried, either the trees were to tall or too high to try partake in any such activities and my parents didn't trust me enough to climb up a tree and come down safely in one piece. 

stone fruit

To fill the void left behind by childhood, I started filling up my adulthood with trips to farms. So a couple of weekends ago, we took a trip to one of the farms up in Brentwood, CA to pick fruit. Here in California, stone fruit are currently in full swing, they're literally falling of the trees with no one to pick them up (especially when I look with envy at some of the gardens here).

These trips to the orchards have taught me a couple of things, one, we need to get one of those little wagon/trolleys to haul our stuff while we walk across the orchard and two, both M and I need to consider picking up less fruit. Though, one great outcome of having too much fruit, is the chance for me to can stuff which is fun but I honestly just don't want to can gallons. 

Snoopy fruit picking

We came across so many different varieties of plums, apricots, including pluots, that I was tempted to indulge in every possible shape and color available. Each and everyone of these varieties had a different taste and texture that made each one special (yes, I tried everything). At first, I thought perhaps, I should use one type of fruit in the recipe, in the end I decided that why not just mix things them all up and have some fun! 

I've made an apple brown betty redux before and this time I wanted to apply the same concept to the stone fruit we collected. I used oat bran for the base this time and flavored it with chai. This is my new summer breakfast pick-me-up and it's one of those easy recipes without any fuss. There just enough oat bran to balance the sweet and sour flavors of the stone fruit, I ate half of this directly from the pan but I also ended up topping some of it on top of plain Greek yogurt for a snack. Baking concentrates the flavors in the fruit so it's a burst of sweet and tart flavors against the background of the cardamom flavored chai oat bran. 

baked stone fruit oat bran betty1

chai stone fruit oat bran brown betty

yields: 2-4 servings


1 cup water

1 tablespoon black tea leaves (I used the Darjeeling variety)

1  1/2 lbs mixed stone fruit (I used plums, apricots, and pluots)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1/4 cup (2 ounces) raw brown sugar 

1/4 teaspoon ground green cardamom seeds

1 cup (5 3/4 ounces) oat bran 

1. Bring the water to a boil on a medium-high flame. Immediately add the tea leaves, allow to boil for 30 seconds and remove from the stove. Allow to sit aside for 2 minutes, pass the liquid through a strainer. Reserve the liquid, keep warm and discard the tea leaves.

2. Wash and wipe the stone fruit clean. Remove any stalks and slice each piece of fruit into half lengthwise. Remove the seed/stone in the center. Keep the fruit aside. 

3. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. In a square 9X9 baking pan, pour the warm tea prepared earlier. Add the coconut oil, brown sugar, cardamom and oat bran. Mix evenly with a fork or whisk. Place the stone fruit cut-side facing upwards over the oat bran mixture. Bake for about 40-45 minutes until the liquid has evaporated and the oat bran is cooked. The stone fruit will brown a little. Once baked, cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil and allow to sit for 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm.

Note: I recommend tasting the raw fruit first, if you find the fruit too tart then add a little more sugar to sweeten things. You could also sprinkle a little sugar before baking over the fruit.