Gail Simmons’ Plum Tart

Whenever I’ve interviewed anyone who has been a contestant on “Top Chef” or any of its spin-offs, they’ve invariably described judge Gail Simmons in the exact same way:

A total sweetheart.

So, it’s only fitting then to take a moment to enjoy a sweet tart from a sweetheart.

This simple yet spectacular dessert is from Simmons’ memoir, “Talking With My Mouth Full” (Hyperion), of which I received a review copy.

The book is a fast, delightful read about how this Canadian grew up to be one of the most recognized people in food TV. Like so many of us, she had no clue what she wanted to do after graduating from college. Fortunately, a family friend, suggested she make a list of what she enjoyed doing, in hopes that would give her some direction. Simmons sat down with pen and paper, and wrote down exactly four words: Eat. Write. Travel. Cook.

And how.

Now, as a judge on “Top Chef” and host of “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” not to mention being special projects director at Food & Wine magazine, she’s more than carved out a career that encompasses all of those passions.

But the path was far from easy.

In the book, you’ll learn how she scored the job of “Top Chef” judge when she recounted to the casting director how she burst into tears when served a badly overcooked omelet at a diner. You’ll gasp when she talks about how she filmed that first season of the show while simultaneously overseeing the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, one of the biggest culinary events around. You’ll also wonder how she — or anyone else for that matter — ever survived being mercurial Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten’s assistant.

The book also contains a dozen easy recipes for cherished dishes that have played a meaningful part in her life.

This tart harkens back to her childhood. It’s really more of a cake — a tender, vanilla-scented one with soft, juicy slices of plums baked into the top.

Simmons suggests you can use other stone-fruit or even apples or pears instead of plums. I used pluots, the sweet hybrid of a plum and apricot.

You can make the batter and smooth it into the pan ahead of time. Then, just slice your fruit, arrange it prettily over the top, squirt on some fresh lemon juice and sprinkle on a generous amount of cinnamon sugar.

After one slice, you can bet everyone will be calling you a sweetheart, too.

Juicy pluots crown a tender, vanila-scented cake.

Plum Tart

(Yields one 9-inch tart)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch table salt

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for coating pan

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound red plums (or pluots), pitted and sliced 1/2-inch thick

Half of a lemon

Cinnamon sugar (2 tablespoons sugar, plus 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, mixed together)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly brush a 9-inch springform pan with butter.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, allowing to fully incorporate before the next addition, then mix in vanilla. Reduce to low speed and incorporate the flour mixture just until the batter comes together. Do not overmix the batter or the pastry will be tough. Pour batter into the springform pan and spread evenly with an offest spatula; wrap the pan in plastic and chill at least 20 minutes or overnight.

Remove dough from the refrigerator. Arrange plums in a concentric circle on top of the dough. Squeeze the juice from the lemon half evenly over the plums, ensuring no lemon seeds escape. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the plums. Bake tart until edges are golden and center is set, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Allow tart to cool in a pan. Run a sharp knife around the edge and then remove the springform. Serve warm.

From “Talking With My Mouth Full” by Gail Simmons

My Q&As with “Top Chef” Alums: Chef Rick Moonen

And: Chef Michael Chiarello

And: Pastry Chef Yigit Pura

And: Chef Kevin Gillespie

And: Chef Suvir Saran

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