As summer ends, doing plums proud Fruit: Simple desserts give just the perfect showcase.

September 11, 1996|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

I agree with the Oxford English Dictionary. It defines plum as a "good thing ... the pick or best of a collection of things." Savor a ripe, juicy plum and it's hard to disagree. They're a luscious balance of tart and sweet.

You can add chopped, pitted plums to salads, muffins and rice. But I think plums translate best in rustic, slightly warm desserts served with ice cream or whipped cream. Cakes, pies and tarts, nothing too complicated. Desserts that let the glorious flavor of the fruit shine through are the best.

Phyllo dough, the tissue-thin pastry dough used in various Greek and Middle Eastern dishes, pairs beautifully with plums. Similar to strudel dough, layered phyllo dough can be twisted to form a rustic pie shell or layered in a baking dish to form crispy top and bottom layers enclosing the plum mixture. Either way, once the dishes are baked, the brown, feathery texture of the baked phyllo is a delectable foil for the juicy, cooked plums.

Phyllo dough is sold frozen at most supermarkets. Be sure to thaw it according to package directions. Fresh phyllo can be purchased at Mediterranean markets.

Traditionally, when layering phyllo dough, it's brushed with melted butter between the paperlike sheets. In the following recipes, Mediterranean plum tart and plum peasant baklava, the phyllo is sprayed with butter-flavored no-stick spray. The spray helps the phyllo brown without adding zillions of fat grams. Calories plum-met.

Or forget the phyllo and make an upside-down cake. Not just for pineapples, upside-down cakes are mouthwatering made with plums and peaches -- especially served warm with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Plum peasant baklava

Makes 12 servings

1 cup honey

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 pounds plums (about 12 medium), thinly sliced

3/4 pound phyllo dough

butter-flavored no-stick cooking spray

In a broad skillet, combine honey, sugar, water and cinnamon. Bring to boil; add plums. Reduce heat and simmer until fruit is just tender but still holds its shape, 2 to 4 minutes.

Remove plums with slotted spoon and reserve. Simmer liquid 20 to 30 minutes longer to reduce to about 1 1/2 cups; set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Layer 4 sheets of phyllo in pan, folding sheets in half to fit and spraying between each layer with cooking spray (you should have 8 layers). Arrange 3/4 of drained plum slices over phyllo, reserving prettiest slices for garnish. Continue layering phyllo sheets over plums, folding each in half and spraying with cooking spray between layers. With a sharp knife, trim edges; cut into 12 triangles. Bake 1 1/4 -1 1/2 hours, until layers are golden and crisp.

Slowly pour cool syrup over top.

Serve warm, topping each serving with a few of the reserved plums and some of the sauce spooned from the pan.

Per serving: 250 calories, 0.4 g fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, 2 mg sodium

Plum and peach upside-down cake

Makes 10 servings

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened, divided use

3/4 cup sugar, divided use

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 cup milk

1 1/2 tablespoons brandy

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 medium plums, thinly sliced

1 peach, peeled and thinly sliced

ice cream or frozen yogurt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, stir flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In bowl of an electric mixer, combine 6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) butter and 1/2 cup sugar. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Add egg and beat until combined.

Add milk alternately with dry ingredients, beating between additions until blended. Add brandy and vanilla; beat until blended.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter on low heat in a nonstick, 8-inch round cake pan. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar and cook on low, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and tilt pan to distribute mixture. Arrange plum and peach slices, overlapping slightly. Cook on medium heat for 3-4 minutes.

Remove from heat and spoon batter on top. Bake 30-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Invert on cake plate. Cut into wedges and serve with ice cream or frozen yogurt, if desired.

Per serving: 218 calories, 10.2 g fat, 6.1 g saturated fat, 47 mg cholesterol, 175 mg sodium

Mediterranean tart

Makes 6-8 servings

9 sheets phyllo dough, about 1/2 pound

butter-flavored no-stick cooking spray

1 tablespoon sugar, divided use

3 cups sliced plums, about 1 pound

1 cup sugar, approximate

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon ground allspice

more sugar for sprinkling on top

Defrost dough according to package directions if using frozen phyllo. Cover unused dough with wax paper and a damp towel.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-inch pizza pan with cooking spray.

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