The idea of a delicate dessert with the Japanese plum wine has been in my head for a long time. The real impetus was definitely our trip to Japan this spring. It was a wonderful trip: The mellow cherry blossoms in the Japanese Alps, the warm-hearted and welcoming people, the delicious Japanese food … Conclusion: I definitely will go to visit Japan again!
One day we hung around in Kyoto. It was lunchtime and we were getting hungry (we were almost all the time hungry during our trip to Japan! We were not quite sure if it was because the Japanese food was very light and therefore could not hold very long, or just because the food was so heavenly delicious that we couldn’t stop eating!). As usual we used our favorite trick on our trips to get really good and original food of the destination: Stopping some locals on the street to ask them, where they normally go to eat (we call it “restaurant guide hitchhiking”). It has worked so well in any country that we have been to. Be it a shabby Trattoria in a tiny Tuscan village where we had our best Italian food ever, or a canteen-like “dining hall” directly beside a crowded street in Chennai, where we had the best Kerala Masala (curry from the region Kerala) during our four week round trip in India.
Now we were standing somewhere in Kyoto and looking for our target. When it comes to food, we always take the task very seriously. We do not ask ANYBODY. Because we want to be sure we are sent to a good restaurant with tasty food, like the local’s favorite. According to our many years of experience, the success rate is not very high with teens, because they mostly prefer having fast food. The safest way is to ask a couple or a single person of middle or older age, since they normally have standards for what they eat. So, we intensely examined the passing by Japanese. It didn’t take us long until we spotted a gentlemen at the age of around fifty. Our instinct told us that he might have a secret tip for us. My husband and I agreed to stop him. Till then, everything went the way it usually used to. Only, there was a difference in comparison to our previous experiences: He spoke almost no English, like most of the Japanese we met on our trip.
Whenever today I think about the situation at that time, I can not stop laughing: On a small side street in Kyoto, a Japanese with little facial expression and gesture looked totally stunned at two foreigners waving their hands and feet in the air and bombarding him with a few chunks of their newly acquired Japanese mixed with English words (in doubt even also Chinese). It must have seemed like a scene out of a Japanese manga book. 😉 We were so lucky this Japanese had an unbelievable imagination. It took not long until he understood that we wanted to know from him, where he normally liked to go for good food. Because we wanted to try out his favorite Japanese food restaurant. He pointed in one direction and gave us a sign that we should follow him. After tens of left and right turns we landed in a small alley that would never be noticed by a tourist. There was a small restaurant. “Soba, OK?” he asked. Soba is the Japanese buckwheat noodle and THE quintessential national pride of Japanese when it comes to traditional food. “Yes, yes!” We couldn’t stop nodding our heads . He stepped into the restaurant and we followed him. The place was tiny. In total, there were only five or six small tables. Like almost all other traditional Japanese small restaurants, there was a bar in the middle of the restaurant, where you could sit in front of the chef and watch him cooking. While we were assessing the restaurant, our hitchhiking-restaurant-guide spoke to the chef in Japanese. We just understood the word: Soba, constantly. After a few sentences, our restaurant guide looked at us with a big smile: “Soba, good, good!” Then he said goodbye to us. We bowed and thanked for his gentleness.
Apparently, our thoughtful guide had already ordered for us, since the chef started to cook without asking for our orders. We were so curious what we were going to get. A few minutes later the food sat in front of us. First dish: soba noodles with tempura ebi (crispy fried prawns in batter) and some unknown vegetables in a steamy clear stock. Second dish: cold soba noodles which were served on a bamboo mat on top of a beautiful black lacquered box. In addition, some cute small bowls with cooked mushrooms, grated radish, wasabi and a sauce to dip the soba noodles. After a brief admiration of Japanese aesthetics, we got started on our awesome good looking food. The food was a bull’s eye! The soba noodles were indescribably exquisite!
We were more than pleased with our choice of restaurant guide. We told the chef (using our hands and feet again) that his food was delicious. He was so happy about our compliment and bowed constantly with a shy smile like a little boy. Then he spoke a few sentences with a Japanese customer who was sitting next to us. The man talked and laughed pretty loud, which was rather unusual for Japanese in public. He had come into the restaurant later than us and was still waiting for his food. He was holding a glass with a golden-brown liquid and ice cubes in his hand. Noticing our curious sights, he pointed at the glass: “Umeshu, very very good” he nodded his head strongly to prove his point.
The word “Ume (plum)” I could just understand. “Oh! This must be the Japanese plum wine!” As I was explaining it to my husband, the Japanese spoke to us again: “Black sugar!” Pardon? I already knew Japanese plum wine beforehand and love to drink it very much. Did he mean that the plum wine was with Black-Sugar flavor, which is very popular in Asia? I was getting very curious. We decided to order two glasses of the same drink as our table-neighbor. It was indeed plum wine with a “Black Sugar” taste! I recognized the distinctive taste of black sugar immediately. It was really delicious! We immediately decided to look for a wine shop afterwards. Just the same day we got the wine! I immediately started to imagine desserts with this great wine I held in my head. Unfortunately we could not wait until we were back home. During our visit at a friend’s home after our stay in Kyoto, we emptied the whole bottle with our friends, having a great evening. You know, sharing your favorites with the dearest people is the most beautiful thing you can do in your life! 🙂
Back home I was eager to integrate this great flavor of plum wine in a dessert. Then I came across the idea of a tart with plum wine. However, I could only find the normal Japanese plum wine without the black-sugar flavor in Germany. Now I had to conjure up this wonderful flavor somehow. Luckily at home I still found a bag of the “Black Sugar” from a good Asian store. I was thinking about a kind of syrup made from the plum wine and the black sugar, in which the plums would be marinated. Then, on the first try, I noticed that the flavor of the plum wine syrup had almost completely disappeared through the baking process. Therefor at my second try, I mixed the plum wine syrup with freshly baked almond crumbs together and sprinkled the crumbles on the finished tart, then served it directly. Thus, both the intense taste of the delicious plum wine syrup and the crunchy texture of the crumbs remained.
The result was fantastic! I love this combination of refreshing green tea flavor in the tart cream, the biscuit-like pastry, the fruity plums and the crispy almond crumbles which taste so delicious of the sweet fruity plum wine.
Bon Appetit! Oishii! 🙂
For the plum wine syrup:
200ml japanese plum wine (Asia shop)
50g black sugar (Asia shop, or brown sugar instead)
For the dough:
120g confectioners sugar
1-2 Eggs (plus water= 90ml fluid)
For the custard topping:
4 green tea bags
3 egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
500g Italian plums (smaller than the normal ones and in egg shape)
30g brown sugar for sprinkling
For the almond crumbles:
100g cold butter
100g ground almonds
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
The rest of the plum wine syrup for soaking the plums
Whipped cream for serving
- At first prepare the plum wine syrup: Simmer the plum wine and brown sugar together in a saucepan on small flame until it reaches a thicker syrup texture (ca. 10 minutes). Take off the heat and chill.
- Wash and drain the plums. Remove the cores of the plums and quarter the plums. Soak the plums in the chilled plum wine syrup for at least one hour.
- Blind bake the dough at first: please check the recipe of my Peach Ice Tea Tart (click for the recipe).
- Now prepare the custard topping (yep, same as for the Peach Ice Tea Tart again (click for the recipe).
- Put the custard onto the tart dough and place the plums that have been quartered and soaked in plum wine syrup in a circle on top of the custard. Set the plum wine syrup aside for later.
- Preheat the oven (180C-200C). Bake for 15-20 minutes until the plums are getting soft and the dough golden brown. Take out of the oven and chill.
- Meanwhile start with the almond crumbles: Cut the butter in small cubes and add these butter cubes as well as flour, almond, sugar, salt and cinnamon to a bowl. Knead with your fingertips until clumps form. Bake the crumbles on top of parchment paper on a baking tray. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven. Pour the rest of the plum wine syrup onto the baked crumbles and set aside for chilling.
- Distribute the almond crumbles just before serving on the tart. Refine with whipped cream.
Enjoy your plum wine tart and catch the last glimpse of this great summer!