This is my best attempt at compromise as summer gives way to fall. I’m trying, I really am, but I’m still not ready (and have some decidedly un-fall recipes to share next week.) Perfectly pretty late summer stone fruits still work for a bit longer, right? If that isn’t enough to convince you, I’m thinking a perfect buttery tart shell filled with smooth buttermilk pastry cream is.

My love affair with pastry cream is intense and everlasting. I didn’t really think there was room to improve upon something that is already so wonderful. But there is a way, and it involves a copious layer of sugar and a kitchen torch. The combination of flavors and textures here is so spot on.  As with anything brûléed, the crisp caramel layer will dissolve over time so this is best assembled before serving. However, all of the components (shell, pastry cream and fruit) can be prepped in advance so last minute work is minimal. If you’re in the market for a dessert a bit out of the ordinary that isn’t overly fancy but is sure to impress, well, now you’ve got one.

  • Yield 1 9-inch tart


For the tart shell: 

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 8 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

For the pastry cream: 

  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping: 

  • 4-5 plums (depending on size)
  • 1-2 tbsp. light brown sugar (less for sweeter plums, more for tart plums)
  • Half of a vanilla bean (split lengthwise)
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
  • Additional granulated sugar (about 4-6 tbsp.) for brûléeing


  • 01

    To make the tart shell, whisk together the egg yolk, cream and vanilla in a small bowl; set aside.  Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor.  Process briefly to combine.  Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture; process to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about fifteen 1-second pulses.  With the machine running, add the egg mixture and process until the dough just comes together, about 12 seconds.  Turn the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a 6-inch dish.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 48 hours.

  • 02

    Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  (If refrigerated for more than an hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable.)  Unwrap and roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 13-inch round.  Transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart pan.  Mold the dough to the sides of the tart pan and remove the excess off the top.  Set the dough-lined tart pan on a large plate and freeze for 30 minutes.

  • 03

    Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to middle position.  Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Set the dough-lined tart pan on a baking sheet, press a 12-inch square of foil into the frozen shell and over the edge, and fill with pie weights.  Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time.  Remove from the oven and carefully remove the foil and weights.  Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 5-8 minutes longer.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

  • 04

    To make the pastry cream, heat the half-and-half, buttermilk, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds.  Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.

  • 05

    When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly.  Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds.  Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla.  Strain the pastry cream through a  fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl.  Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

  • 06

    To make the topping, preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Slice the plums into wedges. Place in a baking dish and toss with the sugar, seeds scraped from the vanilla bean, and cardamom. Roast for about 15 minutes, tossing once or twice, just until the fruit is tender but not overly soft. Remove from the oven and let cool. Transfer the fruit to a clean towel- (or paper towel-) lined plate to absorb some of the juices.

  • 07

    To assemble, spread an even layer of the chilled pastry cream in the tart shell. Sprinkle with an even thick layer of granulated sugar. Use a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar until browned and bubbling. Arrange the plum slices over the surface of the pastry cream. Serve immediately.