We are still in Portugal, which means, look away now. We are total blissed-out bores. The ridiculous truth of this vacation is that all the planning of it went down with the other family we are with when I was neck-deep in a book deadline and my husband had a bit of extra free time earlier this summer so I outsourced 100% of the decisions to them. Thus, I knew extremely little about Portugal upon arriving here and now every turn is a surprise and I don’t want to leave. This place is stunning. The architecture is unbelievable. The people are so nice, and so kind to our rugrats. The beaches… don’t even get me started. I feel like it will take another three vacations to even see half of what we should. I want you to know that I’m up for the job.
I obsess over benign details: how the eggs, butter and milk are kept on the counter, how dark the yolks are, the flaky swirl underneath a custard tart and how I’m ever going to recreate it, the remarkably smooth gray stoned streets, how much better gelato tastes basically anywhere in Europe, all the blissful formats of fried potatoes we’ve been served, the way it feels like not a single opportunity to make something even prettier than it already is was missed, the fact that a dinner setup like this isn’t even unusual. I like the way grownups can stay late over dinner and all the kids can find other kids to play with on the beach below, where we can see them but are freed from hovering. Also, I mean, I was just lamenting that we were out of berries for our fruititarian child when we realized there were blackberry bushes in the backyard. Stuff like this just doesn’t happen at home, but New York, feel free to step it up.
I made these bars before I left. I overbaked them too, because real life is full of distractions. You will not because I’ve warned you. They’re very Early September-ish to me, a little heartier than the usual bowl of berries and cream, but also full of Important Holiday Weekend Things: they portable and keep well in the fridge, they’re full of seasonal fruit and the marzipan crumbles (with an opportunity for even more marzipan noted below) make them a little unique and a lot worth obsessing over if you, too, are an almond paste junkie. They’re not too sweet and a bit tart and I want you to know that we also had some brownies around that week and my husband — the biggest chocoholic I’ve ever met — finished these first. I’d press myself to find a stronger recommendation but did I mention the infinity pool in our backyard? Right, so, be back soon.
Plum Squares with Marzipan Crumble
I baked them in this 9-inch square tart pan, which is what happens when someone gives me a Williams-Sonoma gift certificate for my birthday, but yours will be just fine in a more standard 8-inch square pan, just a tiny bit thicker. You can double this recipe and bake it in a 9×13-inch pan.
Troubled by using only half a tube (I use this brand) of almond paste? Here’s what I didn’t do this time but would next: take the remaining almond paste and roll it out between two sheets of waxed paper into a thin round or square. Cut into mixed sized pieces and scatter the scraps over your parbaked crust before adding the fruit and crumble. You’ll have even more almond flavor.
Are you about to ask me the difference between marzipan and almond paste? They’re roughly the same, except marzipan has stabilizers in it making it more mold-able (for those pretty shapes and figures you’ll see in bakeries). For baking like this, you can go ahead and use almond paste straight.
- 1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (55 grams) sliced almonds, toasted or equivalent weight almond flour
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
- 2/3 cup (85 grams) all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (packed) almond paste (about 3.5 ounces or half a 7-ounce tube)
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces or 55 grams) chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) sliced, toasted almonds
- 1 pounds plums (about 6 to 7), halved, pitted, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. This is going to make it very easy to remove the bars.
Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt, sugar and extract in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps — that’s right, just keep running it; it might take 30 seconds to 1 minute for it to come together, but it will. [No food processor? Get the butter to room temperature and beat it with the sugar, then the flour and salt and mix until combined. Chilling it for 15 minutes or so will make it easier to press in.] Transfer the dough to your prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom and 1/4-inch up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. For the sake of speed, transfer to a cooling rack in your freezer for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the filing.
Make crumble: Blend flour, almond paste, sugar and salt in processor until almond paste is finely ground. Add butter and blend, using on/off turns, until coarse crumbs form. Transfer crumble to bowl; mix in almonds.
Make filling: Combine all ingredients in medium bowl; toss to coat well.
Assemble squares: Sprinkle 1/2 cup prepared crumble over cooled crust. Top with plum mixture. Sprinkle with remaining crumble.
Bake: Until filling bubbles thickly and top is golden, about 35 to 40 minutes. If the bars brown too quickly, cover them with foil for the remaining baking time. Cool in pan. I like to hurry this (too) along in the fridge or freezer. Once firm, I’ll use the parchment sling to remove the bars and cut them more cleanly on a cutting board. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, before serving.
Do ahead: These bars keep for up to a week in the fridge, longer in the freezer.