Bake with Michelle Darmody: Prunes don't have the reputation they deserve

Prunes are the rich and decadent descendants of plums, well maybe not descendants, perhaps an afterthought, either way prunes are dried plums. 

This may lead you to believe that they have similar properties but in fact they are very different in many ways. 

They have different health benefits, an extremely different taste and texture.

Prunes, perhaps, do not have the reputation that they deserve. 

I think they are a delicious addition to much baking and cooking, but they often tend to be associated with stuffy old-fashioned menus and being told that ‘they will keep you regular’.

Pruneaux d’Agen are my favourite prunes they come from the south-west of France and are traditionally kiln dried. 

They are very often sold with their stones still inside as it helps to preserve their rich flavour. 

Their chewy darkness is a delight.

Etto restaurant on Merrion Row in Dublin serves what has become a classic dessert, prunes soaked in red wine and served with whipped mascarpone. 

It is delicious in its simplicity and the wine cuts through the richness of the prunes to make a perfect end to a meal. 

I have given a recipe for my own version of this dessert and you can also recreate a whipped mascarpone if you wish or serve the prunes with vanilla ice cream.

Another delicious, but very different way to eat prunes is to wrap them in bacon. 

They are fiddly little things to make but they are a perfect marriage of sweet and savoury. 

I use a third of a rasher to encase each prune and spear it with a cocktail stick. 

I bake them in the oven for 10 minutes, stick and all, and serve them warm.

Prune and plum tart

For the pastry

140g of cold butter, cut into small cubes

225g of plain flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

50g of golden caster sugar

1 tsp of vanilla essence

the zest of two oranges

For the topping

600g of plums, de stoned and cut into cubes 1 cm in diameter

100g of soft prunes, roughly chopped

30g of butter, melted

10 mls of brandy

30g of golden caster sugar

1 tsp of ground nutmeg

Heat your oven to 180C and grease and flour an 8in flan tin. It is easiest to use a loose- based tin.

To make the pastry rub the butter into the flour until it looks like rough bread crumbs. 

This is best done quick enough so that the butter does not start to melt and become greasy.

Beat the egg, sugar, vanilla and zest together until combined and the sugar has started to melt.

Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture with a fork until combined. Bring it together completely with your hands. 

Wrap the ball of dough in baking parchment and place it into the fridge to cool. Allow the pastry to rest for at least an hour and then roll to about 3mm depth. 

Lay the pastry into the tin and gently press it down and then cut away and excess. 

Bake it blind with a sheet of parchment and baking beans for 15 minutes then remove the beans and parchment.

Continue baking for a further five minutes or until it is just turning golden.

Reroll the excess bits and cut the pastry into leaf shapes for the top of the tart.

For the filling, toss the plums and prunes in the melted butter, brandy, sugar and nutmeg. 

Scoop the filling into the blind-baked case and dot the leaves on top.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the leaves are golden and the topping is heated through and caramelising.

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes and gently set it onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Prune and puff pastry rolls

80g of muscovado sugar

1 tsp of ground cinnamon

the zest of an orange

the zest of 2 lemons and 1/2 tbs of lemon juice

60g of prunes

100g of dried fruits

160g of mixed nuts

1 rectangular sheet of puff pastry, about 300g

Pre heat your oven to 190 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.

Heat 100 mls of water, the sugar, cinnamon and zest and bring to a simmer.

Add the prunes and dried fruit and allow to bubble gently until it is reduced and becomes pulpy.

Stir in the chopped nuts.

Lay out the sheet of pasty and place a thick line of the filling along the longer side, as if you were making sausage rolls.

Roll the pastry over the filling and seal it by scoring the pastry together.

Cut the roll into two-inch pieces and place onto the baking tray.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden on top.

Allow to cool on the tray for five minutes and gently place onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Poached prunes

60ml of honey

480ml of light red wine

1 tsp of ground cinnamon

Zest of 2 oranges

1 tsp of vanilla essence

220g of soft prunes, destoned

I use prunes from the Agen region of France for this dessert.

Stir the honey, wine, zest and vanilla together in a heavy-based saucepan and gently heat to a simmer. 

Add the prunes and bubble away gently for 10 minutes. Allow to sit in the liquid for at least two hours.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, mascarpone or whipped cream.

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