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Originally published September 15, 2011 at 10:18 AM | Page modified September 15, 2011 at 10:33 AM

A tart wins praise, but not for neatness

The New York Times Whether you call it a crostata, a galette or a rustic fruit tart, this juicy, messy confection has a charm that lies...

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The New York Times

Whether you call it a crostata, a galette or a rustic fruit tart, this juicy, messy confection has a charm that lies with its flavors rather than its looks.

As a dessert, it hits the same luscious, buttery, jammy notes as a fruit pie, but instead of being neatly trimmed, crimped and latticed, it features hasty folds and raggedy edges: perfectly acceptable points of style.

Unlike jewel-like tarts crowned with perfect fruits, crostatas do just as well with weeping, bruised specimens, as long as you cut out any obviously funky bits.

And crostatas are easy to improvise. You can use whatever fruit you have, making this a handy recipe to pull out when the result of your farmers' market shopping exuberance begins to wrinkle and fade.

All these qualities make crostatas my pastry of choice when I am baking for people who won't judge a tart (or my kitchen) by its neatness.

Other than a somewhat — let's call it casual-chic — appearance, the other downside of a crostata's free-form nature is that it can be hard to control. Without a tart or pie pan to contain the juices, crostatas are prone to leaking; make sure to use a baking sheet with a rim.

With luck, the juices pool and become a sweet, caramelized syrup, which if you attack while it is still hot, can be spooned over the tart. Sometimes the juices burn, so be prepared to give your baking pan a good soak when all the crumbs have been devoured. Or use a nonstick silicone liner or baking parchment.

I have made crostatas with all kinds of fruit and several kinds of pastry, but this combination of slightly sweet whole-wheat dough paired with tart, colorful plums is my current favorite. The plums, which are high in pectin, cook down to a sticky purplish jam while the pastry bakes up flaky and cookie-like, with a mild nutty flavor.

The last time I baked this crostata, I made a small attempt to gussy it up by scattering a bunch of lemon thyme over the top. It looked so pretty before it went into the oven, like a lacy, leafy forest. It's debatable whether the roasted, browned branches improved the look, however, when the tart came out.

One thing was certain: The lemon thyme added a delicate citrusy herbal scent that made the tart taste even better. With a crostata, that is what really counts.

Rustic Sugar Plum Crostata with Lemon Thyme

Time: 1 hour 20 minutes, plus 2 hours' chilling

1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour

1/3 cup (40 grams) whole-wheat flour

1/2 cup (100 grams) plus 1 tablespoon (15 grams) sugar

1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) plus a pinch fine sea salt

1 large egg

Heavy cream

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3 cups sliced and pitted ripe sugar plums or mix of other plums (about 680 grams; 1 1/2 pounds before pitting)

1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) cornstarch

1 small bunch lemon thyme (or use 1 teaspoon lemon thyme leaves).

1. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse together the flours, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt until blended. In a measuring cup, lightly beat the egg, and add just enough cream to get to 1/3 cup. Lightly whisk the egg and cream together.

2. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse to break up the butter. Do not over-process; you need lima-bean-size chunks of butter. Drizzle the egg mixture over the dough and pulse until it just starts to come together but is still mostly large crumbs.

3. Put the dough on the counter and knead to make one uniform piece. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for 2 hours or up to 3 days.

4. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough out to a 12-inch round (it can be ragged). Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and chill while preparing the filling.

5. Toss together the plums, all but a tablespoon of the remaining sugar, a pinch of salt and the cornstarch. Pile fruit on the dough circle, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Gently fold the pastry over the fruit, pleating to hold it in (sloppy is fine). Brush pastry with cream. Sprinkle remaining sugar on top, with the thyme.

6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Remove the thyme branches (some leaves will cling; you want this). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 servings.

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