Autumn, when you can feel the warmth of the sun through your clothing, but the smallest breeze chills your skin. Tan lines are fading, winter squashes and apples appear at the produce markets, and some mornings start when the sky is still as dark as the coffee you pour. I’m more likely to notice the shorter days from the “What? It’s dark before dinner?” end of the day, just sayin’.
At one of our local produce markets with my daughter Becca, here on a visit from the hot southwest — she was freezing; I was loving the high 70s — I noticed the most gorgeous Mission figs. Baskets of perfectly ripe, uniform size, almost blemish free velvety black-purple skin… I could taste their mild sweetness and feel those microscopic crunchy seeds just looking at them.
Once back home with a basket of those irresistable figs, I did some googling to find just the right recipe. As soon as I saw cornmeal as an ingredient, and then mascarpone, I was captivated with this recipe on the epicurious.com website. It would have taken a lot to make me abandon it for another.
From 2003, which is a pretty old recipe in the foodie world, it still seemed pretty contemporary to me. For one thing, mascarpone just can’t go out of style. Like a soft cream cheese without the tang or the salt, it is the perfect creamy and smooth blank canvas. Flavored with a spoonful of fluffy grated of lemon zest (I used less than the recipe; it’s a hubby thing) and held by a hearty and savory cornmeal blend crust, the fresh figs still dominated the eating experience.
I would make this again in a heartbeat. Over and over until the jar of Fig and Caramel Preserves I used was emptied.
And it was just as delicious for breakfast as it was for dessert.
On to the recipe adaptations. I already mentioned that I reduced the amount of finely grated lemon zest I used because my husband is NOT a fan. But even the reduced amount flavored the mascarpone well. As for the salt and unsalted butter combo, if you’re happy with the saltiness of your salted butter, just use it.
Also, do not substitute dried rosemary for the fresh; this is one of those times when it just cannot be done. Leave it out altogether if you have to, but why aren’t you growing an evergreen rosemary bush in your garden somewhere? Their long sprigs make the best scented filler in a vase of flowers as well as being perfect for winter stews and summer marinades, even skewers! They are so easy to care for, too.
As for the figs, I think any type of fresh fig would be fantastic on this tart. I only wish I had the foresight to pick up two baskets of these beautiful little Mission figs so I could have covered the whole tart with a wall-to-wall carpet of fig slices! As it was, my scant pound was enough to make do with but the suggested 1.5 pounds would be better.
The recipe called for a mixture of currant jelly and honey to be melted and brushed over the figs. Well. No currant jelly, not wanting to run to the store, and with little patience for brushing a coating over delicate fruit, I searched the frig (we should call it the condiment cabinet, honestly!) and came up with a jar of fig and caramel preserves. Melted with some honey and vanilla, it was a tasty but not overwhelming accent.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup finely ground cornmeal (should be about the same as flour; check the bulk bins)
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1/2 cup butter (4 oz, 1 stick)
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 4 - 5 Tbsp. ice water
- 8 oz mascarpone cheese
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 to 1 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (use a fine microplane grater)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 lbs fresh figs, perfectly ripe
- Choose either glaze or sauce: glaze -- 2 Tbsp red currant or apple jelly + 1 Tbsp honey; sauce -- 4 Tbsp. fig preserves + 2 Tbsp honey + 1/8 tsp vanilla
- Pulse in food processor to mix the flour, cornmeal, and sugar. Add the butter in chunks and rosemary; pulse until coarse meal with the visible butter chunks the sizes from rice to peas. Pour 4 Tbsp ice water over; pulse until just combined. Add 1/2 Tbsp more water at a time only as needed. The mixture should *just* hold together when squeezed.
- Press evenly into a 1" deep, 10" round (or 11" x 8" rectangle) tart pan with a removable base. Press a layer up the sides all the way to the top edge. Chill 30 minutes.
- Bake the chilled crust at 400F for 25-30 minutes. Set pan on rack to cool.
- Mix all ingredients. Can be done a day ahead; refrigerate until ready to assemble.
- Slice figs. Heat glaze or sauce ingredients in microwave or on stove, stirring frequently, just until runny.
- Remove tart pan ring from crust. Use a thin flexible spatula or long knife to loosen crust from base. Slide crust onto serving platter.
- Spread filling evenly in crust. If using sauce, drizzle in an artistic way over the filling. Arrange sliced figs over filling. If using glaze, brush gently over figs.
- Garnish with a sprig of rosemary if desired.
- Cut into wedges to serve.
- Crust and filling can be made up to a day ahead. Crust will soften after being filled, so the tart should be assembled within an hour of serving.
- Fresh figs are squishy when ripe, far beyond what you look for in an avocado.