The flavour of freshly ground star anise is vital for this soul-warming dessert. The trouble is, it's very hard. An alternative to using a spice grinder would be the old pestle and mortar or a small food processor, followed by carefully sifting the powder and getting rid of any hard chunks.
1kg dark plums
600g (net weight) rhubarb
1 vanilla pod
1½ tsp ground star anise
180g soft brown sugar
Juice of 1 orange
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
200ml crème fraîche, for serving
For the topping:
420g plain flour, sifted, plus extra to dust
1 tsp salt
70g caster sugar, plus extra to dust
¼ tbsp baking powder
170g cold butter
300ml whipping cream
1 free-range egg, beaten
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Quarter the plums, discarding the stones, and put in a bowl. Trim off and discard the rhubarb leaves, cut the stalks into 3cm-long segments and add to the plums. Cut the vanilla pod along its centre, scrape out the seeds and add both seeds and pod to the fruit. Add the ground star anise, sugar and orange juice to the bowl, and mix together with your hands. Transfer the contents of the bowl to a medium-large, ovenproof dish, then push down with a fish slice, or similar, to create a more or less even surface.
- Now make the topping. In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, and on low speed, mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Cut the butter into small dice, add to the dry ingredients and mix until the butter is dispersed and the mix resembles coarse, uneven breadcrumbs. Stop the machine, add the cream and work just until everything comes together.
- Transfer the mix to a lightly floured surface and knead it a little, just until smooth. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry into a 1cm thick sheet. Use a round pastry cutter (or a star cutter for a festive effect) to stamp out discs.
- Arrange the discs over the fruit. Lay them out neatly and close together, so they touch, or even slightly overlap. Gently brush the discs with a little bit of egg and top with a restrained scattering of caster sugar.
- Bake for an hour; it could take a bit less or even longer, depending on the fruit. It's ready when the fruit is hot and bubbly, and the topping golden and cooked through. Serve warm, lightly dusted with icing sugar, if you like, and with a blob of crème fraîche on each portion.