Yields: 8 servings

Cook’s notes: When baking, it’s especially useful to start with a basic, trustworthy recipe and then go wild with variations. This recipe is based on my mother’s plum kuchen, which has a foolproof crust; we eat it for breakfast and dessert. Try varying the fruit toppings, replacing the plums with cherries, blueberries, blackberries, or sliced apples. Or bake the crust blind (prick it all over with a fork and bake it at 375 degrees til golden and crisp), paint it with some melted chocolate, and cover it with strawberries (glaze them with a touch of melted jam). If you’re feeling patriotic, bake it in an oblong dish instead, and decorate it with fresh berries and whipped, lightly sweetened cream cheese to resemble a flag.

1 1/ 4 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/ 2 cup granulated sugar, divided

Pinch of coarse salt

1/ 2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon water

5 or 6 ripe red plums (about 1 pound), unpeeled, thinly sliced

3/ 4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/ 2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; butter a 9-inch tart pan set on a rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk together flour, 1/ 4 cup sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, or process briefly in a food processor. Cut in butter by hand or by pulsing in processor until coarse crumbs form. Whisk together egg yolks and water and pour into flour mixture; knead gently or pulse in processor until dough just forms a ball.

Press dough into bottom and sides of prepared pan. Place plum slices, slightly overlapping, in concentric circles over dough. Stir together remaining 1/ 4 cup sugar and cinnamon, and pecans if using. Sprinkle evenly over dough.

Bake 45 minutes, until plums are tender and pastry is golden. Cool on a wire rack at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, plain or with a dollop of whipped cream.

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