I can remember a few years ago, having recently fallen in love with figs, I went to the store looking for them and left disappointed. Store after store, it was the same. Finally I asked and the clerk looked at me as if I had two heads.
Flash forward a few years and they are EVERYWHERE. It is painful to be ahead of the food curve.
I brought two boxes home last weekend and decided I wanted a fig tart to go with the veal stew with mushrooms that I was making for my Pomodori e Vino recipe challenge. I ended up making this fig frangipane tart by Jamie Oliver.
Frangipane is an almond custard, or pastry creme, which turns slightly cakey and oh-so-buttery once baked. The top takes on a pleasant crunch. As with many French pastry names, it's sounds much more difficult to make than it actually is, as it consists mostly of butter, sugar, eggs, and almonds.
This tart is intriguing because of the fresh thyme and orange zest sprinkled over the top prior to baking. I worried that the flavours might compete with one another to the point that they drowned each other out. I could not have been more wrong.
Paul declared it to be one of the best desserts he has ever had. High praise.
This fantastic tart is one of the things that really sums up Tuscan desserts for me. It's a great way to use ripe figs or stone fruit, with a dusting of cinnamon to bring out the flavour.
Jamie Oliver's Fig Tart (Crostata di Fichi)
15 whole figs, washed
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
zest of 1 orange
for the shortcrust pastry:
9 tablespoons butter
1 cup icing sugar
a small pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
optional: 1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed
zest of a lemon
2 large egg yolks, preferably organic
2 tablespoons cold milk or water
for the frangipane:
10oz blanched whole almonds
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
14 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, preferably organic, lightly beaten
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed
1 tablespoon grappa
First you will need to grease a loose-bottomed 28cm/11 inch tart tin with a little of your butter.
To make your pastry, cream together the butter, icing sugar and salt and rub in the flour, vanilla seeds, lemon zest and egg yolks - you can do all this by hand or in a food processor. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, add the cold milk or water. Pat and gently work the mixture together until you have a ball of dough, then flour it lightly. Don't work the pastry too much, otherwise it will become elastic and chewy, not flaky and short as you want it to be. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove it from the fridge, roll it out and line your tart tin. Place in the freezer for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4 and bake the pastry case for around 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and turn the heat down to 170°C/325°F/gas 3.
To make the frangipane, blitz 9oz of the whole almonds in a food processor until you have a fine powder and transfer this to a bowl with the flour. Now blitz the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add this to the almonds with the lightly beaten eggs, the vanilla seeds and the grappa and fold in until completely mixed and smooth. Place in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up. Remove the stems from the figs, score each one on the top in the shape of a cross, then using your thumb push up from the base to open them out.
Spoon the chilled frangipane mixture into the pastry case, then lightly push the figs into the frangipane with the scored side up. Heat the sugar with the water and drizzle this syrup over the figs. Roughly chop the remaining almonds and sprinkle over the top with the thyme leaves and orange zest. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until the frangipane mixture has become firm and golden on the outside but is still soft in the middle. Allow to cool for about 30 to 40 minutes. Lovely served with a dollop of mascarpone or crème fraîche.