I have rarely cooked or baked anything with figs and was delighted to see that there are several recipes in Martha’s Pie and Tart book that feature figs. (I know I like fig newtons, but I “fig”ured that there was more to know about figs.)
The recipe calls for making tartlets – which for some reason makes me think of young Hollywood actresses, not food. I don’t have small tart pans (4″ or 3″) so I decided to make one large tart.
There are three basic elements to this tart. The pastry crust, the creme and the fruit (figs) topping. Each of these parts can be made ahead by up to a day.
Ingredients for Fig Topping:
1 Cup of ruby port. (I suggest getting a nice bottle so that you can have a glass while baking)
3 star anise
3 cinnamon sticks
1 TBSP black peppercorns
3 strips Orange zest (3 inches long and 1 inch wide), plus zest curls for garnish
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 TBSP honey
2 vanilla beans halved lengthwise
1 1/2 Lbs Fresh Black Mission figs Halved lengthwise with very tip cut off as that part can be especially chewy or hard to cut later (for this recipe I tried using dried and reconstituted black mission figs, more on this later)
For the Creme:
6 Oz cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup (6 oz) creme fraiche.
3 TBSP confectioner’s sugar
1 Half recipe of the Pate Sucree
You’ll need a 1/2 recipe of Pate Sucree. There is a previous post with recipe for this sweet crust. Prep time from taking the dough from the fridge to a baked crust cooled sufficiently to put the creme in is about 90 minutes.
The fig and port topping has a total prep time of about 90 minutes as well including cooling time.
The prep time for the creme is about 30 minutes or as long as it takes your cream cheese to come to room temperature.
Let’s start with the crust, so that it has plenty of time to cool completely before putting the creme filling in it.
Take the plastic wrapped Pate Sucree from the refrigerator. If it has been refrigerated for more than an hour you’ll want to allow the dough to soften just slightly before beginning to roll out. (several minutes depending upon the warmth of your kitchen). Unwrap and on a floured surface roll out into an 11″ round (if using a 9″ tart pan) You can use the bottom of your tart pan for a gauge.
Roll out the dough to 1/8″ thick (erring on the side of thicker). Try to work quickly. the initial rolling will involve some force on the center of the dough as it is cold and relatively hard.
Next you’ll want to place the dough in the tart pan and press it quickly into the shape of the pan. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to cut off any excess crust. (though it should be little)
The cold crust may tear a bit when rolling it out. Never fear – it is much hardier, and malleable than it looks. You can mend the tears by pressing the dough with your fingers.
Poke the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. (so when it bakes the crust doesn’t get air trapped beneath it and bubble up).
Place the completed crust in the tart pan in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to cool the dough again prior to baking.
While the crust is in the refrigerator, you can start the fig topping (It can be made several days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container if you wish)
As you can see from the ingredients, this is a spicy, citrusy, syrup that will make your whole house smell wonderful, so it’s worth considering that when deciding when to make the topping. ( I love having guests walk in the house and have them immediately enveloped in some tantalizing atmosphere of aerated spices and butter based baking.)
I noted above that I used dried reconstituted figs for this recipe. I have since seen the fresh figs in a different market than I usually frequent and will post again after making the topping using the fresh figs. The flavor may be similar, but obviously the texture will be very different.
Pour yourself a glass of the port to make sure that it is safe to use in your recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
I baked the crust first prior to roasting the figs. Put unbaked tart shell on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake tart shell until golden brown. (About 15 minutes). Let cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, combine the port, start anise, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, orange zest, granulated sugar, and honey in a roasting pan. (Any largish oven proof pan with at least 2″ high sides will do).
Use the tip of a paring knife to half vanilla beans lengthwise and to scrape the vanilla seeds into the port mixture, then add the pods.
Add the figs and turn to coat all the ingredients with the syrup.
The roasting pan is now ready to place in the oven.
Baste once, and roast until figs are soft and liquid is syrupy. (About 45 minutes)
Let the fig topping cool. Try a taste of the syrup! At this point you’ll want to remove the the large spices and large citrus pieces so that no one flavor overwhelms the figs if you are storing the topping. Also it is only the figs and the syrup that are going on the tart.
Now all we need is the Creme filling. (I found this to be a Very rich creme).
Your cream cheese should be room temperature at this point.
Generally any time I am adding cream cheese in a recipe I cut it into at least 1 ounce chunks to soften. In this case we are starting with the cream cheese and adding to it, but it is still a good practice to start with smaller pieces to be sure that there is no cold center that will give your creme or frosting lumps.
With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in the creme fraiche and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. (This filling can be made ahead as well, refrigerated for up to a day. Bring to room temp prior to using). Don’t forget to taste this filling!
Now that the Tart shell is completely cool, the fig topping is cool and the creme is ready, you can assemble the tart.
Spoon the filling into the tart shell. You’ve tasted the creme so you decide how thick a layer you want on your tart, depending upon what else you are serving. You want it to be a nice bed for your figs though.
Finally, drizzle syrup over the creme and top with the figs and a bit of fine orange zest.
I found this tart to be very rich with a combination of complex sweet, spice and citrus (obviously) which were a lovely offset to the creaminess of the filling and crust.
I have since made this with small tart pans and Fresh figs and would only ever make it with fresh figs in the future. The texture and flavor is wonderful.