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The Ultimate Sugarplum Pie

Chef Tamara Stanger’s sweet and savory creation is the perfect finale to your Christmas dinner.

By Tyler Peckham | Photography by Rob Ballard

From the time she was 7 years old, chef Tamara Stanger frequently found herself elbow-deep in flour and sugar, baking with her grandmother and—perhaps not apparent to the youngster at the time—learning ancient cooking techniques from her family’s Czech heritage. Today, those memories and lessons resonate in the chef’s cuisine, including the menus and dishes she creates at her Tempe restaurant, Cotton & Copper, and in her own home kitchen.

Pie-making was a holiday cornerstone in Stanger’s Utah childhood abode, and it remains a tradition for the chef today. “It is so rewarding to make these old-school dishes because you are bringing back something that has been lost,” she says. In this case, Stanger dug through countless handwritten recipes and notes to find a long-forgotten spice blend to flavor her Sugarplum Pie. “I had created a pie with plums long ago, but I couldn’t remember precisely which spices I seasoned it with.”

Chef Tamara Stanger uses simple ingredients to make her pie crust. Her choice of vintage glass pie plates adds charm to the final presentation.

Stanger’s pie begins with a simple crust that she rolls out and then using her fingers, presses it into a large vintage pie pan. “You need to actually see the butter in your pie pastry; that’s what makes for a perfect flaky crust” she says. Her fruit filling, the result of much experimentation, is a mixture of red plums, prune plums and pluots which she finds “provide the most flavor.” The crowning moment isn’t the crust or filling, however. It’s Stanger’s crumb topping. Laced with the rediscovered earthy and unexpected spice mix that includes toasted caraway and fennel, the topping is an aromatic tie to savory holiday dishes from times past.

Slices of plums placed cut-side down in a custard-based pie filling will be baked beneath a savory-spiced sugar topping.

Pie Crust

11/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

4 tablespoons butter

¼ cup cold water

 

Plum Puree

2-3 plums, pitted, skin-on

1/2 tablespoons sugar

 

Topping

½ cup sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon cardamom, ground

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

11/2 teaspoons fennel seed

3 tablespoons butter, cold

Filling

11/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

5 tablespoons plum puree

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup melted butter, room temp

4 plums, sliced, skin-on

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the pie crust, combine flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Chop butter into thin slices and, with your fingers, work it into the dry ingredients until pea-sized bits form. Once butter is mixed in and consistency of pie dough is crumbly, slowly add cold water until dough is moistened. Roll dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour until firm. When ready, flatten dough ball into a disk and roll it out on a floured surface until it is large enough to fill a 9 1 /2-inch glass pie pan. Fit dough into pan, trimming to a 1 /2-inch overhang. Roll top to create edge and, using your fingers, crimp edge. If desired, use a toothpick to create a hatch design. Cover and chill in refrigerator at least one hour.

To make her crust extra flaky, Stanger cuts slices of butter fairly thin then, using her fingers, works the butter into the dry ingredients until the dough is crumbly.

To finish her pie crust, the chef rolls the edge–as you would for a pizza crust–then creates a crimped design with a toothpick.

Work thin slices of butter into the dry ingredients until pea-sized bits form. Leaving small chunks of butter in the dough results in a perfectly flakey crust.

For plum puree, blend plums in a food processor or blender until mostly smooth. In a sauce pan over low heat, warm puree with sugar and stir until dissolved. Set aside.

Make topping by mixing sugar, flour and cardamom in a medium-size bowl. In a dry pan over medium heat, toast caraway and fennel seeds until fragrant and lightly browned. Crush toasted seeds with a mortar and pestle; add to dry sugar blend. Cut butter into dry mixture until crumbly. Set aside.

For filling, whisk sugar, flour and eggs until fluffy. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, plum puree and lemon juice. Stir in melted butter until incorporated. Pour liquid mixture into prepared pie shell. Arrange plum slices inside shell, distributing them evenly.

Spread topping over pie, then bake for 1 hour or until filling appears mostly firm when moved. Allow pie to cool and chill overnight in the refrigerator for best results. Before serving, garnish pie with edible flowers, such as pansies, or extra plum slices and vanilla ice cream.
Serves 8

This filling features fall spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. When mixing, be sure to wait until butter is room temperature to avoid curdling.
Carefully place sliced plums into filling. Red plums, pluots or prune plums offer the best flavor.
When serving, garnish pie slices with edible flowers, extra plum slices or vanilla ice cream.

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