Figs are here!
We've been having them fresh and unadorned (and, in my husband's case, peeled), and really they are perfect just as they are. But they were calling out to me - "Bake me! Bake me!" - so I set some aside and considered some options.
Fig ice cream? Preserves? Galette? With ricotta or mascarpone and honey? All great possibilities, but for some reason, none of those were clamoring to be baked this time. So off I went to consult the Flavor Bible (of course) and it said:
I didn't have to read any further (although I did). Figs. Almonds. Figs. Almonds. Gears turning in my head: fig frangipane tart! Ding ding ding ding ding! Our favourite pear frangipane tart, but with figs instead of pears! Now that prospect had a voice, and it was singing ever so sweetly. I thought I was so clever, like Culinary-Hall-of-Fame-Genius clever. Yeah. Google and its 18,800 results burst that bubble in all of 0.35 seconds, but oh well. I made it anyway, the way I had originally planned. It may not have been as revolutionary as I thought, but my boys thought it was genius, which was reward enough for me.
As mentioned earlier, one of our favourite desserts is pear frangipane tart. I make a few each year, right about this time. Yesterday we discovered that fresh figs work just as well as pears. Something about late summer/early fall welcomes this kind of dessert: cozier than summer's fruit tarts and lighter than autumn's pumpkin pies, a frangipane tart steps gracefully into the changing of the seasons.
This tart is very easy to put together - yes, easy: even the crust, which is usually the most daunting component. Easy, however, does not mean quick. Impatience sometimes puts a damper on baking, and rushing the process along really sucks all the enjoyment and satisfaction out of it. When making tarts or pies, it helps to keep in mind that a lot of crusts need to be given time - not a lot of hands-on time, mind you, but a lot of "resting time": it only takes a few minutes to make, but you need to budget for at least an hour of rest time before rolling, plus another hour or so after that. Even pat-in-the-pan crusts sometimes call for some time in the fridge before filling and baking. Some crusts, like this one, require blind baking as well: 20-25 minutes of baking just the crust, before the filling is added.
I often ease the blow for myself by making the crust in the evening - then it can rest overnight in the fridge. The following morning, it's all set: I roll it out, lay it on the pan, put it back in the fridge or freezer, and prepare the filling in the meantime. It doesn't seem to be as much of a time sink that way. You know what, though? Time-consuming or not, this tart is worth it.
Fig Frangipane Tart
Crust Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Filling Adapted from Pie & Tart (Williams-Sonoma)
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 5-10 times to combine:
7.5 ounces (1½) cups all purpose flour
(or, 6.25 ounces (1¼ cups) all purpose flour + 1.5 ounces (¼ cup) ground almonds)
½ cup confectioner's sugar
¼ tsp salt
With the food processor bowl uncovered, scatter over the flour mixture:
½ cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into ½" cubes
Pulse until the butter is cut in. This shouldn't take too many 1-second pulses. You are aiming for pea-sized, flour-coated bits of butter.
Once again with the food processor bowl uncovered, pour over the flour mixture:
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp cream or water (optional - the original recipe doesn't include this,
but I find that it makes rolling easier)
Pulse again, this time with longer pulses (about 5 seconds each), until the dough starts to form clumps. Do not let the dough come together into a large ball - this will overwork the dough and will result in a tough crust.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured working surface. At this point, you have two options:
1) Press the dough into a 9" or 9½" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom (or 5 mini 4¾" tart pans), then freeze for at least 30 minutes (I aim for 1 hour).
2) Use your hands to very lightly gather all the pieces together into a ball. Wrap it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or even overnight. After that rest period, roll out the dough, then lay it over a 9" or 9½" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom (or 5 mini 4¾" tart pans). Freeze this rolled out crust for at least 30 minutes (I aim for 1 hour).
After the freezer rest time, partially bake the crust, covered lightly with aluminum foil, in a preheated 375ºF oven, on the middle rack. (Dorie Greenspan says that you do not need to use weights since the crust was frozen, and she is right.) It will take 20-25 minutes.
Remove the crust from the oven, but leave the oven on. Carefully remove the foil. The crust is now ready to be filled.
While the crust is blind baking, prepare the filling. Over medium heat, in a small saucepan, melt and cook until golden brown:
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine in a bowl:
8 ounces finely ground almonds
(if you are starting off with whole almonds and measuring by volume,
you will need 1½ cups whole almonds)
5 ounces (⅔ cup) sugar
2 large eggs
½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp dark rum
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Stir in the melted butter.
Spread the filling evenly over the tart shell(s), almost, but not quite, to the top. Do not overfill; otherwise it will overflow once you add the fruit.
Slice lengthwise into quarters:
10 fresh figs (all together, mine weighed just under a pound)
Arrange the fig quarters, skin side down, over the filling, There is no need to push them in as they will slowly settle into the filling.
Bake (still at 375ºF) until the filling is firm to the touch and slightly golden. A 9" or 9½" tart will take 40-45 minutes. 4¾" tarts will take 30 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. To me, this tart tastes so much better after 24 hours. My husband loves it unconditionally.