Figs: Staying in, Going out
It wasn’t until well into my twenties that I tasted my first fig – unless you count fig rolls from the office biscuit tin. A girlfriend made me the most wonderful canapé of fresh figs, sliced over tiny warm goat’s cheese crostini, drizzled with honey and freshly made basil pesto – utterly delicious. It’s still the fig dish I’m most likely turn to, piling the lot onto generous rounds of toasted baguette for a more substantial snack, perhaps adding a few shards of crispy prosciutto crudo. But faced with a box of impulse bought figs last week, I decided it was time to think of something a little different, something more dessert based, perhaps along the lines of a day-to-night feature in a fashion magazine. You know the genre - here’s one dress, wear it to work like this, then cleverly style and accessorise it as evening wear like this. The figs, much like the dress, are a beautiful thing in themselves, but equally good in a warming dessert for a cosy at-home weekend lunch, or with a little more effort, as the star of a more complex, restaurant style dessert.
Staying in: Fig & Frangipane Tart
You can make this tart ahead of time, and warm it through in the oven before serving with mascarpone or vanilla ice cream. It’s also lovely at room temperature as an afternoon snack. For more dainty, patisserie style tarts, use tiny fluted tartlet tins instead of a large tin.
For the pastry, put 200g flour and 100g cubed butter (make sure the butter is fridge cold) into a food processor and blitz until the mixture looks like fine sand. Add one egg yolk and one tablespoon of the water and pulse very briefly until the mixture comes together in a ball, adding another tablespoon of water if needed. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill for fifteen minutes in the fridge. Don’t wash out the food processor, as you can use it for the frangipane. Pop 250g ground almonds or hazelnuts, 250g sugar, 250g butter and 75g flour into the food processor and process until fluffy. Add in five eggs, one at a time, blitzing between each egg, until the mixture is completely smooth. Chill the frangipane in the fridge until needed.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Remove the pastry from the fridge, roll it out to the thickness of an £1 coin, and use it to line your 25cm fluted tart tin, pricking the base with a fork. Put the tin in the freezer for 10 minutes. Carefully press crumpled greaseproof paper over the chilled pastry, fill the tin with baking beans and blind bake the pastry case for 10 minutes, until the sides are sandy to touch. Remove the baking beans and bake for a further 5 minutes until the base is sandy to touch. Allow the pastry case to cool, then fill the pastry case with the chilled frangipane mixture, and top with quartered figs. Bake for 25-35 minutes until the top is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.
Going Out: Honey Savarin with Thyme Poached Figs & Home Made Ricotta
These look far more impressive than their level of difficulty warrants, and once you’ve tried the home made ricotta once, you’ll start making it to go with everything. You can make up all the elements of this dish in advance, and just put them together before you serve dessert. The recipe makes about 18 savarin, so you can freeze any leftovers or warm them up for breakfast the next day, dipped in leftover honey.
For the ricotta, bring 600ml double cream to the boil in a large saucepan. Just as it reaches boiling point, add the juice of one lemon and stir vigorously. Remove from the heat and keep the lid handy, as the mixture will try to bubble violently out of the pan. Once the mixture has cooled a little and stopped bubbling, pour it into a sieve lined with damp muslin or J cloth, then pull up the sides of the cloth and twist the material tightly to form an enclosed ball. Tie the top of the ball with string, and hang it from a hook set over a bowl (I use the handle of a kitchen cupboard). The whey will drip out, leaving the ricotta inside. You can eat the ricotta at room temperature after making it, or for a firmer set, allow the ball to cool then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
For the savarin, beat together 200g flour, 70g butter, 7g dried yeast, 30g honey, the juice & zest of one orange and a pinch of salt until smooth. Add five eggs one by one, beating thoroughly between each egg. Leave the mixture to rise in the bowl covered in clingfilm for one hour, or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, bring 200ml honey to the boil in a pan with a few lemon thyme sprigs. Remove from the heat. Thinly slice four figs and allow them to infuse in the honey for an hour or until they are needed.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Spoon the risen savarin mixture into your lightly oiled savarin moulds, filling them to just over half way, and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and risen. Tip them out onto a wire rack, and repeat with the rest of the savarin mixture until you’ve used it all up. Traditionally, you would then dip the warm savarins into sugar syrup or honey, as with a rum baba, but I find this makes them a) too sweet and b) too soggy - when I tested the recipe on my parents, it reminded them of Indian syrup soaked gulab jamun. But if you do like very sweet desserts, then by all means leave this step in. To serve: fill the centre of the savarins with the ricotta mixture, and top with a piece of infused fig. Spoon some of the honey over, and serve with more infused figs, garnished with lemon thyme leaves.
Food photography: Patricia Niven
Food Styling: Rukmini Iyer