Monday, July 24, 2023

Fig and Vanilla Cream Tart

Let's say, you always wanted to make a pie, but it's intimidating and you never did. And you kind of feel bad about it. Don't. Pies can be troublesome if you are new to the game. They have a temper; they tend to be stubborn and not overly-flexible creatures. They don't yield easily or take shortcuts. It has to be their way or no way. You have to make the dough, and butter has to be cold, and water has to be icy, and you have to give dough a good rest, and then roll it with care, and then rest it some more, and on and on it goes. 

Have you considered making a tart instead? After all, it is a member of the family. A sweet tempered member of the family. And the best looking member too. 

Speaking of which... 

At first I wanted to make this tart entirely for its beauty. There is something about fresh figs that is irresistible, you cut them in half and put them on top of something -- sandwich, salad, cake, anything really -- and it just oozes old masters. So that's what I was thinking at a particular moment and that's how basically this tart happened. I had to put the figs on something, so I figured vanilla custard would be the best, and I needed a shell to pour the custard into, so I figured a toasted almond shell would be just about the perfect companion, and I needed a buffer between the custard and the shell, otherwise it would have been like really plain and boring, so I figured I needed a layer of fig jam.

So I went and made it, and then I realized that good looks aside, this tart really is a treat.

Let me put this into perspective...

Imagine a late summer afternoon somewhere by the sea. I am thinking Greece, I am thinking Paros. A wild grove by the sea... The air is scented with thyme, oregano, and overripe figs ready to be picked. You've spent the entire day on the beach, not a lazy day, but a  hardworking summer day, like a kid running around with a propeller in its behind type of day. A day of swimming, surfing, or diving from the rocks. And the day is coming to a close, and the golden hour is upon you, trailed by the lavender colored sunset. You walk to your porch, salt, and sand still on your skin, looking for that perfect bite. Something to restore, replenish, and reflect... Something that mirrors the perfect moment you are suspended in. 

I guess that's it, that's how I feel about this tart... Ripe figs, sweet yet refreshing, velvety vanilla custard,  fig jam, woodsy with hints of caramel, and a shell of toasted almond -- all in perfect harmony.

Another awesome thing about this recipe is -- figs and jam aside, this is the tart that's meant to honor the lavish summer fruits. Keep the base, keep the custard, and rotate the fruits and the jam and you still have a winner. A dessert that will rock and roll you all summer long. Say lemon jam and fresh blueberries. Blueberry on blueberry is also great. Ditto with mango on mango, and raspberry on raspberry. Raspberry peach jam with fresh peaches. Or ginger marmalade with fresh pineapple... I think that you can see where I am going. 

Whatever fruits and jam you pick, there is one ingredient that will make this tart shine. If anyhow possible, use vanilla bean for the custard. This is the kind of food where using vanilla bean makes a big difference. Cookies and cakes and sweet breads and things alike will be just as happy with some good old vanilla powder or extract. But creme patissiere... Creme pat is where you want your vanilla bean to go into. 

That's it. That's the post. I'm keeping things short and sweet these days. 

Have a wonderful summer.

Fig and Vanilla Cream Tart

for the crust:

180 grams raw skin-on almonds
125 grams white rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
110 grams granulated sugar
100 grams softened butter

for the filling:

4 - 5 tablespoons fig jam

for the custard:

420 milliliters (1 3/4 cup) whole milk
60 milliliters (1/4 cup) heavy cream
4 egg yolks
115 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 tablespoon good quality vanilla powder, I use Nielsen Massey)
1/4 tsp salt

for fruit topping and to serve:

6 - 8 ripe figs, halved (plus more for serving)
whipped cream
other fruits, toasted almond slices, or pistachios (optional)

Heat the oven to 350°F (325°F convection). Roast the almonds for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the almonds cool before grounding.

In a food processor, grind the almonds with half the rice flour. Add the salt and the remaining rice flour and pulse several times to fully combine.

Using a mixer cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and almost white. Add the almond mixture and combine until dough comes together. 

Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch tart pan; use about two thirds of the dough for the bottom and about one third for the side. Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork. Chill for at least two hours or overnight. (You can also freeze, covered in plastic, for about a week.)

Heat the oven to 350°F. Cover the dough with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Fill the dough to the top with pie weights. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the weights and the foil and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the shell is golden. Let the shell cool completely before filling. Total baking time should be about 25 minutes, or about 5 minutes more if you want a deeper flavor and more crunchy bite.

Prepare the custard.  In a small saucepan combine the milk, vanilla bean, and seeds and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for 15 to 30 minutes. Uncover and remove vanilla bean. 

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in egg yolks until mixture is pale yellow, smooth, and fluffy. Slowly whisk in the milk mixture. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it has thickened, and the mixture is about to approach low boil, it will take about 6 to 7 minutes. Once the mixture comes to a low boil, continue to cook and whisk for another one to two minutes. (This will deactivate amylase, starch-dissolving enzyme that exists in egg yolks.) Remove the custard from the heat. Add the butter and mix until fully incorporated. Pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve. Cover with plastic wrap (it should touch the cream surface to prevent crust from forming). Let cool on the counter for about 45 minutes, until the custard is close to room temperature and is still slightly runny.

Assemble the tart: Spread a thin layer of the fig jam over the base of the tart. Whisk the pastry cream and pour it into the tart shell. Use a small spatula to spread and flatten the pastry cream. Cover the tart with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, to allow the pastry cream to fully set.

When ready to serve remove the tart from the fridge. Top with fig halves in a pattern of your choice. Garnish with other fruits, nuts, and/or white chocolate pearls. I like to throw in a herb sprig or two, as it really takes me back to Greece... Serve with more figs and whipped cream on the side. 

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