Tag Archives: figs

A Winter’s Tale: sesame-almond, fig-raspberry tartlets

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This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) challenge began as a quick fig and raspberry tart, and ended with me as a culinary flaneur, discovering food ideas containing sesame, almond, figs, and raspberries. Oh, I also turned them into tartlets.

Sesame and almond pastry made me wonder. An unfamiliar combination, it looked chunky, flecked with almond and cinnamon, “rustic” (that over-used word). Lightly toasted, a nutty fragrance fills the kitchen and trickles through your lungs. The scent of sesame promised exciting things from exotic locations.

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Then, I looked at the raspberry and fig filling and wondered some more. Figs and sesame, raspberry and fig – I get that. But raspberry and sesame? Delicate raspberries with the bold, strong flavours in the pastry? Curiouser and curiouser.

The recipe for the fig and raspberry crostata asks for fresh figs and fresh raspberries. It’s still winter in our corner of the world, and the fruit shop was charging $4 per fig. Per. Fig. Yikes! Unwilling to spend my weekly coffee budget on a few under-ripe figs, I substituted dried white figs, plumed up in warm water and scented with cardamom and cinnamon. In keeping with the winter theme, I added raspberry jam to the fig compote instead of fresh raspberries, with a generous splash of lemon juice.

Raspberry jam, dried white figs and lemon juice creates a sweet-tart reddish gooey mess, which bubbles up during cooking to leave strands of caramel around the lattice pastry. Its relative simplicity showed off the enriched textures and flavours in the pastry: toasted sesame, toasted almonds, cinnamon. In these tartlets, the pastry wants to be the star.

This mix of textures and flavours make these tartlets grown-up’s treats. Sweet and tart jam and caramel. Crunchy, sesame-fragrant pastry. These tartlets piques your curiosity, then invites you to linger, smell, nibble, and then taste.

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Lazy sophistication in a goats curd, fig and walnut tart

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Sometimes, a recipe says to me, ‘Make me, now, don’t wait.’

And I don’t wait. (Really, who would dare say no to a talking recipe?)

I had one of those moments when I saw a goats cheese, walnut, dried figs single crust pie on Johnny’s blog, Feed the Piglet. I recently discovered his blog, and it had me at hello. Those recipes for home made stock, beautifully laid tables complete with tall-stemmed glassware. As someone who often grabs a hasty lunch in the CBD, those tall-stemmed glassware, architectural potato stacks and parsley soup speak of holidays, weekends and fabulous feasts.

When I saw the recipe, I sat there looking at the computer screen for a good few minutes, trying to imagine the mingling of sweet and savoury, soft and crumbly. There was a roux made with home made stock, goats cheese, walnuts, dried figs and plumped-up prunes, all in a made-from-scratch shortcrust pastry case. It was intrigue at first sight.

So I went ahead and made the pie, or a lazy person’s version of. There was goats curd instead of goats cheese, no roux (the stock had run away with the risotto earlier in the week), and puff pastry instead of home made shortcrust. Then, the finished product looked more like frivolous tarts than sturdy serious pies, probably because I made them in mini pie dishes, and the puff pastry was a bit frou frou. 

Nonetheless, the finished tarts were things of beauty, despite my shortcuts and the slapdash rustic presentation (it was the best kind of Sydney winter’s morning, with such an achingly blue, cloudless sky, I couldn’t stay indoors for too long). The sweet, soft figs were set off by the tangy goats curd and the savoury walnuts. I added some roasted apples to the filling mix, and they provided a softer, tart-sweetness that melted into the goats curd filling.

The word that came to mind was sophisticated. There was nothing superficial about the flavours, they pulled you in and demanded that you think about and savour every bite.

And if my slapdash version was good, just think what Johnny’s original would be like.

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Ultimate highway season cookies

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It’s highway season again. When we, our family, neighbours, friends and colleagues all hop in the car and drive somewhere at least 300km away. This is the Thursday before Easter, the start of a four week public holiday long weekend.

Last night, we drive for 6 hours and arrived at the Mr Gander family beach hut at 11.20pm.

It seemed all of Sydney was on the move with bumper to bumper traffic (all following that truck). Leaving the cities behind, the highway wound past bushland and forests, we rolled through a sleepy town, sleepy suburbs, bushland, a sleepier suburb, a solitary street with hushed houses and a solitary street light. Then “home”.

I was never happier to see the beach hut, with its solitary street light. And Mr Gander’s mum in her silk pyjamas, coming to say hello and offer a cup of tea.

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During the drive, we ate the last of these chocolate chip cookies. They proved to be unexpectedly comforting and heartening after a hasty dinner by the highway.  I made these a couple of days ago for friends who had driven from Canberra and had a similarly stodgy dinner on the highway (the most exciting thing was the boiled vegetables used for garnish). One of them ate inhaled three cookies, and then talked about Banach space while nursing a glass of wine.

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Good things come in threes: fig jam, tart, ‘taschen

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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:

On 23 February 2013, Gander woke up with a ticklish feeling in her ear. She remembered the moment 478 years ago, when a fig was squashed underfoot in a moment of childish frenzy, and the fig, lying bleeding in the dirt, said to her “may you have figs come out of your ears from the day you become a woman.” Gander had travelled far and wide, always away from places where figs grew in the wild, or hung in garlands under heavy porticos.
[a hundred pages and centuries of history later] and that morning, Gander looked into the mirror and saw figs, nestled in garlands above and next to her earlobe, with the tips of more dried figs visible in the shadows where her nape is veiled by lustrous dark hair.

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.

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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.

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