The first and only time I ate a fresh fig in the United States was when I was 17, working at a family-owned upscale grocery store in Mystic, Connecticut.
A coworker had bought a box of four figs and was eating them on her lunch break. I had no idea what the round purple things were. I presume she was familiar with them because her parents were from the Southern US; there was no way a fig tree could have survived the winters in Connecticut without a heated greenhouse.
“You’ve never had a fig? Here, try one.”
The fleshy pink and purple mess didn’t have much taste, and I didn’t like the texture. In retrospect, I think they must have been under ripe and a bit dry.
I don’t know exactly when the passionate fig obsession kicked in, but shortly after establishing residence in Paris, in September of either 2007 or 2008, I began the habit of buying at least a kilo per week while they were in season and trying many of the fresh-fig recipes I’d collected throughout the year as long as they were available. I can’t help but eat one or two before I even get home from the market, before they’re washed. I scope the offerings up and down the market stalls to find the figs that are just perfect: dark purple, with a bit of gooey syrup oozing out from the bottom.
This year, I’ve dreamed up a recipe of my own, after reading dozens of methods for fig cakes, pies, and tarts. Enjoy!
Fig Tart with Mascarpone Citrus Custard
1 cup wheat flour
¼ cup almond meal
2 Tbsp white sugar
pinch of salt
70 grams (5 Tbsp.) butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
2 ½ Tbsp. ice water
1 250g (8.8oz) mascarpone cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup white sugar
1 Tbsp. orange blossom water
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. maple syrup (I used Grade B)
1 tsp. chopped lemon zest
2 Tbsp. almond meal
¼ tsp. salt
20-25 grams (1.5 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
juice of 1 medium lemon
4 Tbsp. brown sugar
Fresh figs: about 350 grams, or 6-8 figs
Lightly toasted slivered almonds
Blend together the wheat flour, almond meal, and sugar in a food processor. Leaving the processor on medium speed, add the salt, and gradually incorporate the cubes of butter. Once the dough is sticky, add the egg yolk, and once it has blended in, add the ice water. The dough will quickly thicken in consistency and roll up into a ball, or a couple of large chunks.
Line a 9 inch/24 cm tart pan with wax paper and press the dough into the pan until you have an even consistency along the bottom, and have covered the sides of the pan – pressing into the crease so the dough is even all the way around. Freeze the dough for 30-60 minutes.
Preheat the oven while the dough is in the freezer to 180C/350F.
Bake the dough for 18-25 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.
Allow the dough to cool on a rack (or outside, on the windowsill!)
Prepare the filling while the dough cools. In the (cleaned and dried) bowl of a food processor, combine the mascarpone with ¼ c sugar. Allow the mixture to come to an even consistency, and then, leaving the processor on medium speed, gradually add the rest of the filling ingredients. Once you’ve added everything, turn off the processor and check the consistency- if the mixture is not evenly mixed, pour it in a bowl and whisk manually.
When the mixture is evenly mixed (all ingredients mixed throughout and the texture is uniform,) pour the custard into the cooled tart shell and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the custard puffs up and turns golden brown.
Allow to cool for 15-30 minutes on a wire rack (or windowsill) and then at least 30 minutes in the fridge. At this point, it can sit in the fridge overnight to be finished the next day, if necessary.
Prepare the glaze by combining the butter, lemon juice, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan on medium low heat. Let it cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, about 15-20 minutes until it thickens and forms a puffy foam.
During this time, toast about 1.5 Tbsp of slivered almonds either in a dry saucepan on medium heat, or in a 180C/350F oven, stirring occasionally, being careful not to over-brown.
Slice the figs vertically to about 1cm/one-third of an inch, removing the rough top stem. Place the figs over the surface of the custard and brush liberally with glaze. Top the tart with the toasted almonds.
Allow the tart to cool and set in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before serving.