This started with a surfeit of dried figs in the pantry. How this happened, I don’t know. One day, we woke up with dried figs coming out of our ears.
After I wrote the last sentence, it looked like a sentence that could have come from a fable in the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Like:
What actually happened that morning – I looked into the pantry and saw dried figs and more dried figs nestling among dried apricots. No magic realism in sight.
I looked at the dried figs, they looked at me. The first and only thought that occurred to me was fig jam.
Figs, dried apricots, orange juice, with cinnamon and a smidge of vanilla. No added sugar. Poached in a slow cooker with barely enough water for more than two hours. During this time, the figs and apricots were plump, infused with each others’ flavours, and then were cooked down again until the mixture is just on the verge of drying out and caramelising. Then, the mixture was blitzed in a food processor until they turn into a thick, dark, shiny and smooth paste.
This isn’t your usual jam, where the first and last thing to hit your palate is sugar. When we tasted this jam, we tasted the fruit first, and noticed their sweetness afterwards. It was sweet enough, not cloyingly sweet. What lingered and made us come back for another spoonful was the play between the flavours of figs, apricots and oranges.
Recipe at the end of the post.
On the same weekend, it seemed everywhere I looked, people were blogging about food for Purim. What caught my eye was hamantaschen, a three cornered pastry that symbolises the hat (or ears) of the evil Haman. And traditionally enclosing a fruit filling, such as dates, prunes, or figs.
Having made fig jam, it seemed I was meant to make hamantaschen. The thick fig jam was great for these pastries, they kept their shape, and the melange of fig, orange and apricot contrasted well with the mild, buttery pastry dough.
After they came out of the oven, I drizzled some accidentally but perfectly melted white chocolate (long story) over the ‘taschen, along with some crushed cashews and peanuts. Not the most authentic touch, but, when life gives you perfectly melted white chocolate…
These ‘taschen were tiny (apparently they were about two-thirds of the standard-sized hamataschen). This meant they were innocuously bite sized, so you can always justify having another, and another. And that’s exactly what friends and colleagues, including a Jewish colleague, did.
We still had fig jam leading us down a fig strewn path. That was when I thought of crostata, that glorious Italian jam tart we had in Sicily for breakfast, lunch and tea.
This tart was the first outing for a square tart pan. Round is so passé this week. Hence trendy tart. Besides, trendy alliterates with tart, tiny and taschen.
For the pastry, I wanted something that would stand up to the figs. Borrowing from a recipe on David Lebovitz’s blog, I added polenta and quinoa, molasses, and finely chopped culinary lavender to the pastry. Polenta and quinoa gave the pastry a robust wholegrain taste. Polenta also provided a crunchiness, like an extra crumbly shortbread. The dough was quite soft, and was much easier to handle after it has rested in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
The pastry case was filled with spoonfuls of the fig jam, topped with a thin layer of raspberry jam. The raspberries added light hearted frivolity to the figs, figs are just so … deep and meaningful. I’ve tried the Lebovitz tart with quince jam, and with a barely-there layer of slivered almonds.
For the tart topping, I broke off the left over bits of pastry, rolled the bits into little balls, and flattened them in my palm. These went on the jam layer in an irregular way. After baking, they looked like little golden pebbles, nestled against the dark brownish red of the jam. David Lebovitz’ suggests sprinkle raw or coarse sugar on top, but I thought the tart was fine without the extra sugar.
Mr Gander took this tart to work. His colleagues all came back for seconds.
Pastry recipe at the end of the post.
Vaguely based on the recipe for prune filling from Sarabeth’s blog post, Hamantaschen revisited.
20 dried figs
8 dried apricots
juice of an orange
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoon vanilla
1. Roughly chop the figs and apricots, and add cinnamon and vanilla. Place the dried fruits in a small saucepan, add orange juice and enough water to just cover the mixture.
2. Cook over low heat until the juice and water, stirring occasionally to make sure the mixture does not stick. When the liquids have almost evaporated, remove from heat and let cool.
3. Whiz the mixture in a food processor until it becomes a thick but uniform paste-like mixture.
This should keep, covered, in the fridge for a couple of weeks, if not longer.
The basic proportions are: two parts flour mix, one part butter, half to one part sugar, and enough egg to pull the dough together into a ball of dough. I also took the idea from David Lebovitz’s recipe to add a little baking powder to lighten the dough. The dough should be soft, maybe slightly tacky to touch, but should not stick to your fingers in a wet mess.
110g unsalted butter
260g flour mix (110g plain or A/P flour, 90g polenta, 60g quinoa flour)
80g castor sugar
1 small egg and 1 eggwhite
1 teaspoon baking powder
Optional: add half a teaspoon sea salt flakes, half a teaspoon of finely chopped lavender, almond essence or the grated rind of one lemon; or, sprinkle some slivered almonds in the tart base before adding the jam layer.
Jam: about 250g fig jam and 70g raspberry jam.
1. Rub the butter and sugar together with your fingers, or beat them together with a wooden spoon. Add the egg, egg yolk and flavourings.
2. Mix the flour mixture, add baking powder and salt. Mix into the butter and sugar mixture just until you get a rough ball of dough. Chill the dough in the fridge.
3. Take about 2/3 of the dough and roll it out. Gently fit the piece of dough into the tart pan. I found the dough is quite soft at room temperature. If it tears, just pick up a piece of dough and patch it up.
4. Spread the jam evenly over the dough.
5. Take little bits of the remaining dough, roll it into a ball, and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Place these circles of dough over the jam layer in a decorative pattern. Leave about 5mm between the rounds of dough, as they will expand a little during baking – otherwise you may end up with a polenta slab rather than pretty golden pebbles.
6. Bake at about 170C (340F) for 20 minutes, until the pastry case and tart toppings have turned golden. I used a dark tart pan, and this caused the edges of the tart to darken more quickly than the toppings.