Figs are a rather stealth fruit.
For those of us not lucky enough to have our own backyard fig trees, we forget the candy-sweet, sticky, plump fruit have two seasonal harvests a year here — in June-July, and September-October.
As such, they rather sneak up on us. There we are, ogling the strawberries, plums and nectarines at the market, when all of a sudden out of the corner of our eye, our attention gets hijacked. “Are those figs?,” we find ourselves asking silently, as we hurry over to investigate. Sure enough, they are baskets bulging with the gorgeous purple or green figs.
Once they get squishy soft, I happily eat them straight out of hand. If I want something more complex but super easy, I’ll split them and pair them with blue cheese, walnuts and a drizzle of honey.
But since I’ve loved Fig Newtons since I was a kid, I do love the jammy intensity figs take on when cooked.
That’s why I was itching to try this “Fig Tart” recipe. It’s from “French Roots: Two Cooks, Two Countries & The Beautiful Food Along the Way” (Ten Speed Press, 2014) by Jean-Pierre Moulle, former executive chef at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, and his wife Denise Lurton Moulle, who grew up in the famed Bordeaux wine-making family and started her own Bourdeaux wine distribution company.
Like the other recipes in the book, the tart is something they have made for years at home. It’s not tweezer food with tons of extra ingredients. It’s a simple tart that really lets the figs shine first and foremost — which is what you want.
The galette-style tart has a bottom layer of easy, homemade almond paste. It’s just almond flour mixed with a little sugar and butter. What’s nice is that it has deep almond flavor without being as cloying as the store-bought kind.
The fresh figs go over the almond paste. Then you partially fold over the edges of the crust to enclose everything before popping it into the oven.
As it bakes, you stir together some more fresh figs, a little water and a pinch of sugar on the stovetop, cooking it down until it becomes a thick, chunky jam.
When the tart is done, brush the fig jam over the fig filling. Yes, fig on fig action. It gives the tart a lovely glossy look and adds even more juiciness.
The tart possesses a wonderfully flaky, crisp crust. The wine-y flavor of the figs really comes through with the perfect subtle sweet nuttiness of the almond paste. The flavor is sort of like a gourmet Fig Newton meets French macaron.
Make this tart while those furtive figs are still around in their first harvest of the year.
You know what else is sly about figs? They’re actually not fruit, but clusters of flowers inverted onto themselves. And they’re the only fruit to fully ripen and dry partially on the tree.
(Serves 6 to 8)
1/2 cup almond flour or very finely ground blanched almonds
7 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter
25 Mission figs, trimmed
1/4 cup water
Sweet Tart Dough (see recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, use a fork to work together the almond flour, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and butter to make a paste. Set aside.
Cut 5 of the figs into quarters and combine with the water and remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar in a small saucepan set over low heat. Cover, stirring occasionally, until the fruit breaks down into a chunky glaze, 10 to 15 minutes.
Roll the dough into a rough 1/2-inch thick circle and place on a baking sheet (don’t worry about making a perfect circle). Spread the almond paste over the tart dough, covering as much of the surface as possible. Keep the dough cool.
Cut the remaining 20 figs in quarters. Leaving a 1 1/2-inch border, arrange fig quarters in a tightly packed circle around the circumference of the dough, and then create a smaller circle within the circle, overlapping the fig quarters. Fold the dough border over the figs and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the figs are beginning to color and the crust is a deep, golden brown. Remove from the oven and use a brush to spread the fig glaze over the cooked fruit. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Sweet Tart Dough
(Makes pastry for one 9-inch round tart)
1/2 cup butter, very cold and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
In a food processor with the blade attachment, work the butter, sugar, and salt together until the butter is the size of a garden pea. Add the vanilla and egg yolk and then, little by little, the flour. Pulse until all the ingredients are incorporated without overworking; the dough should be loose and crumbly. Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface, dump the dough onto the plastic wrap and enclose it to form a tight ball. Press the ball down to bring the dough together and form it into a disc (this is much easier to do while the dough is wrapped in plastic.) Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight, before using, allowing the dough to warm up for 15 or 20 minutes before rolling it out.
From “French Roots” by Jean-Pierre Moulle and Denise Lurton Moulle
More From “French Roots”: Cauliflower Salad with Eggs and Anchovies
And: Fig Cookies
And: Fig Compote