Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Ready, Set, Go: Figs Tart Up

This is a recipe when you are home for long stretches of time. In the winter when it's too cold to go outside. Or, when there is a stay-at-home order during a pandemic. 

There are a good number of steps, but each can be completed separately rather than all the steps in one day. The result is a dessert of great flavor, textures and delicious pleasures.

An irresistible bargain inspires new fig creations

I learned to appreciate figs when I lived in a house with a fig tree. I enjoyed watching the fruit slowly form, first as a small bulb attached to a twig, then bulging into a soft, round shape, expanding into a fullness that invited the touch.
In one of my most pleasurable, early food moments I watched a fig ripen and picked it just as its nectar collected at the bottom. Biting into its warm sweetness, I was hooked. My breakfast routine after that required only a cup of black coffee, a piece of dry toast and a trip to the fig tree.
As anyone with a fruit-bearing tree knows, while the first appearance of fruit on a tree seems akin to a miracle, as the season progresses and the small gathering of fruit turns into a seemingly unending torrent, that miracle can become a curse. Knowing a recipe that requires a good number of figs is a blessing in the face of that over abundance.
Where I live now, I also have a fig tree. This one, another kind of miracle, self-seeded itself. On day three or more years ago I noticed a "weed" in our garden. Three leaves from the tiniest of stems appeared in the middle of an area where I usually plant tomatoes. As if I had encountered a friend from years ago, I immediately recognized this uninvited plant. 

A fig tree!

The spindly trunk is now 5' tall, with half a dozen branches and leaves galore. No fruit yet, but the fig tree appears to be vigorously endowed, gaining two feet in height since last year. While I wait for my home-grown figs to appear, I also am waiting for figs to appear in the markets. 

That time will come very soon and when it does, I will make a most delicious fig tart.

Crystallized ginger crust

In the past I had experimented with crystallized ginger in pie crusts. Finely ground, I spread the finely ground sugary-ginger throughout the crust so the flavor influenced but did not dominate the flavor profile of the dessert.
With that last addition, I felt I had a winner. The crystallized ginger added a sense of heat, contrasting perfectly with the sensual figs. Served at a dinner party, my choices were confirmed. The fig tart was approvingly declared “not too sweet, full of flavor.”
A pate brisee dough, thinly rolled out, creates a flaky starting point for the tart's layers of flavors. The fig confit has a rich huskiness. A simple custard binds those flavors together. The roasted almonds complete the contrasts of flavor and texture. All four components (confit, custard, almonds and dough) can be prepared a day ahead so the tart can be easily assembled on the day when you will slice the fresh figs.

Fig Tart With Custard, Crystallized Ginger and Almonds

Makes a 9-inch tart, or three or four 3-inch tartlets
For the fig confit:


4 of the ripest figs, washed, quartered lengthwise
1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 tablespoon water


1. Scrape off and finely chop the inner part of the figs. Discard the skins.
2. In a small saucepan, mix together the fig puree, sugar and water. Heat over a medium flame. Simmer and stir frequently for five minutes.
3. Set aside to cool. This will keep in a refrigerated, sealed container for several days.

For the custard:

Custard is easier to make than you might think. This recipe is simplicity itself. The uncooked custard can be refrigerated for up to two days.


1 large farmers’ market fresh egg
¼ cup white sugar
½ cup heavy cream (not whipping cream) Trader Joe’s sells the only cream I can find without preservatives


1. Beat together the egg and sugar.
2. Add the cream and blend well.

For the roasted almonds:


¼ cup whole, raw almonds


1. Roast the almonds in a 350 F oven for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often to prevent burning.

2. Remove, let cool and roughly chop. The roasted almonds can be kept in a sealed jar for several weeks.

For the dough:

I prefer a thin crust, because I want the figs, custard and almonds to predominate, but if you like a more substantial crust, double the quantities for the dough recipe.


1 tablespoon or 3 pieces of crystallized ginger
1¼ cups all-purpose white flour (I like King Arthur flour)
½ teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
1 teaspoon white or raw sugar
1 stick or ½ cup sweet butter, kept cold, finely chopped
3 tablespoons ice cold water


  1. Use a chef’s knife to chop up the crystallized ginger as much as you can before further grinding in a food processor with a metal blade. Don’t worry if you’re left with large pieces. Add the flour, sea salt, sugar and butter. Pulse for 30 seconds until well combined.
  2. With the food processor on, slowly add the ice-cold water in a steady stream. If the flour accumulates on the sides of the processor, shake it loose. Add enough water so the flour gets crumbly and sticks together.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface and your hands. If you are making smaller tarts, divide the dough accordingly. Gently work the dough into a flattened disk about 5 to 6 inches in circumference for the large tart, 2 to 3 inches for the small, turning it so all sides are dusted with flour. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  4. Brush melted sweet butter on the tart pan. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes or overnight. This will guarantee that the dough will not stick to the pan.

Assembling the tart:

To keep the tart as fresh as possible, bake just before serving.


2 baskets ripe figs, washed
Fig confit
Roasted almonds
Tart dough
2 tablespoons floor for the cutting board


  1. After removing the dough from the refrigerator, let it rest on the counter 30 minutes. 
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough evenly, starting in the middle and working to the outer edges, keeping the round shape as much as possible. Create a circle of dough 2 to 3 inches larger than the circumference of the tart pan so there’s enough to line the sides.
  4. Take the tart pan out of the freezer. Use the rolling pin to transfer the dough onto the pan. Start on one edge, lifting the dough onto the rolling pin, moving forward until the dough has wrapped around the rolling pin. Gently place the dough on the tart pan, being careful to press the dough against the sides of the pan. Use a paring knife to gently cut off the excess dough.
  5. Use pieces of the excess dough to fill any holes or close any tears. Tarts are very forgiving.
  6. Using the paring knife, poke holes every few inches on the bottom of the tart to release steam during baking. Pour pastry weights or uncooked rice to cover the dough. Bake 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven or until the crust is lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Carefully remove the pastry weights or rice.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
  8. Using a pastry brush, spread the fig confit evenly over the bottom as well as the sides of the crust. Cut off and discard the stems from the figs and quarter them lengthwise. Lay the figs on the bottom of the tart, cut side up, in a decorative way, which usually means placing them in circles within circles. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon raw sugar. Place the tart on a baking tray and put in the oven. Bake 20 minutes.
  9. Remove the tart from the oven. Drizzle custard over the figs. Sprinkle with roasted almonds. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
  10. Check to see that the custard has set. Be careful not to burn the figs. Remove tart and let cool on a rack.
  11. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar and with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

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