There’s a plum tree in our backyard, down on the fence next to the chicken coop. It’s a scraggly thing – nondescript with lots of thin branches and small leaves sticking up chaotically into the air. We were going to cut it down before we realised it fruited, and eventually decided that with its position right on the fence, the tree wasn’t taking up much space or doing any harm. It’s one of our only established fruit trees so we had to love it a little.
The plums are those small round ones like cherry tomatoes. Ours start out yellow and ripen through to red, although I think they’re best when they’re sunburnt orange. They’re not bad to eat at all – a little tart but still juicy and good. They make fantastic jam. After New Year I dutifully climbed the ladder and clambered over the chicken coop to pick every plum I could before they fell from the tree or the birds got them. Each small load was like a little basket full of sunshine.
Afterwards our neighbour’s plum tree started to fruit, and I remembered what a fine, fine specimen it is. It’s an angelina plum or something very similar, and its canopy is like an elegant, draping curtain that you can climb beneath, looking up to marvel at all the plump, dusky, intensely purple plums. No ladders are required as the plums drop down to your hands. They have sweet yellow flesh and taste sensational.
These plums were ripening while our neighbours were away, so I picked a few for us to eat and got busy with a little more plum cookery. I made a yeasted plum pie that was pretty fantastic but still needs a bit of tweaking, and some baby friands in Portuguese custard tart moulds that were amazingly good – all crisp exterior, buttery, crumbly cake, and a slightly tart slice of plum on top adding an extra dimension. I tried another batch reducing the sugar and butter, thinking I was being quite clever, but they were denser and not nearly as good. So I’m happy to admit that even with their use of almond meal and egg whites, friands aren’t very good for you, but that really isn’t their point!
This recipe (with a few small adjustments) comes from Jill Dupleix. Friands actually seem to be a unique thing we do in Australia, growing popular via cafes in the last decade or so. They are based on the French ‘financier’, but are a little bigger, and financiers don’t usually have fruit. We love them, I think, because they’re so much more dainty and delicious than an oversized boring muffin. Soon someone might declare they’ve joined the ranks of classic Australian foods with pavlovas, lamingtons and roast lamb with mint sauce.
180 g butter
180 g icing sugar
60 g plain flour
120 g almond meal
5 egg whites
1 tablespoon amaretto or other liqueur
plums, such as blood plums or angelinas
Melt the butter, then brush some of it inside your friand moulds. You can use proper friand trays or mini muffin trays, or even smaller trays with rounded bases
that are used for Portuguese custard tarts, or madeleine trays. (I used one of each of the last two trays, making about 20 baby friands.) If the trays aren’t non-stick, I would dust them with flour after buttering as an extra precaution.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Sift the icing sugar and flour into a bowl. Stir in the almond meal. Add the egg whites and amaretto and mix well, then stir in the melted butter.
Spoon the mixture into the moulds, filling to three-quarters full. If you are using small moulds, be extra careful not to add too much mixture as the friands rise in the oven.
Slice your plums in half and remove the stones. If your plums are particularly large, or if you are using small moulds, cut each slice of plum in half again to give thinner slices. (Too much juicy fruit on top will make the friands too moist and you won’t have any fun getting the friands out of the trays.)
Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until golden. Turn the trays around halfway through cooking. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the trays.