I don’t really consider myself a baker. Dessert is not my forte; I feel more comfortable cooking savory food. The divide between “baker” and “cook” is a commonly understood one, so much so that Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant Rebecca confessed on a recent episode, “I can’t cook.” It sounded funny, but the judges knew what she meant: She considered herself just a pastry chef, not someone who could work with savory ingredients.
Over the years, though, I have become more comfortable with baking. I’ve even developed a few signature items, most notably a sweet white dinner roll (with a little white whole-wheat flour snuck in) that has been added to the list of things my family can’t have Thanksgiving dinner without.
I had never made a really successful pie or tart crust, though. A few attempts had been disappointing – dense and heavy, hard to work with, just not good enough to be worth my while.
But the other day, while trawling my cookbooks for something fabulous to do with a basket of fresh figs, I spotted David Lebovitz‘s recipe for raspberry-fig tart (and the absolutely stunning accompanying photo) in his book Ready for Dessert. The crust recipe sounded simple, and I guess I was feeling brave, because I got right up and headed into the kitchen. And it must have been meant to be, because I found my heretofore unused removable-bottom tart pan in my cluttered pan drawer with no fuss whatsoever.
The buttery almond crust was easily mixed in the food processor and rolled out like a dream. I did have two moments of consternation regarding the crust. The first came when I had to get it into the pan. The dough is easy to work but somewhat delicate to move. I had rolled it out on a piece of parchment paper, and I couldn’t figure out how to flip it over without having it break into pieces. Finally, I borrowed a technique I learned making frittatas: I slid the crust, still on its paper, onto a plate, then placed the tart pan upside down over it. By flipping the whole shebang, I wound up with the tart pan on the bottom and the crust neatly in the pan. It was easy then to move scraps of the crust around to make sure it came evenly up the pan sides.
The second hairy moment came when I checked the crust after its 20-minute bake under aluminum foil and pie weights (for which I used a pound of kidney beans). The crust stuck to the foil most worrisomely. After some freaking out, I put the whole thing back in the oven for 10 minutes, which set the crust enough for the foil to come off with just a little crust clinging to it.
After that, the process was simple; spread on a little raspberry jam (I, of course, used locally made Heidi’s, the best raspberry jam I’ve ever tasted – Dickinson’s preserves would be good too) and arrange quartered figs on top in concentric circles.
The finished tart was so much more than worth my two moments of stress. It was just as beautiful as the one in the book, and utterly delicious. The crust held together nicely, cut cleanly into wedges (though it was slightly difficult to cut with a fork), and tasted fantastic: nutty, buttery, just the right amount of salty. I would not have thought of raspberries and figs as natural partners, but they taste marvelous together.
The crust softens after time in the refrigerator, but is still delicious – so much so that I’ve been dreaming of other ways to use it. (Topping the list: cream cheese spread and mixed fresh fruit, glazed with warm apricot jam.) After playing with accompaniments, I highly recommend trying the tart with crumbled goat cheese – we had it this way for breakfast – or drizzled with melted chocolate.
I made a couple of small changes in the recipe. I am reproducing it here the way I did it, with Lebovitz’s original instructions left as options. Don’t forget to leave yourself time for the 30-minute freezing step before baking the tart crust!
More fruit desserts: Sweet and Tangy Plum Frozen Yogurt with Lemon, Orange-Scented Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp, Any-Berry Summer Pudding
Almond-Crusted Fig and Raspberry Tart
Time: 1-1/2 to 2 hours Hands-on: 30 minutes Serves 8
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (or use all white flour)
1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 large egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 to 1/3 cup best-quality raspberry preserves
1 pint basket fresh figs, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
3 tablespoons honey, warmed
Lightly butter a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan.
In a food processor, combine the flour, almonds, sugar, and salt and process until the almonds are ground very fine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is like slightly damp sand with tiny pebbles of butter scattered through it. Add the egg yolks and process until the mixture starts to come together. (If it doesn’t, add cold water a little at a time until it does.)
Turn the dough out onto a floured board or, better, a sheet of parchment paper. Knead it briefly until smooth, then roll out until it’s a little larger than your tart pan. Using a plate as described above, transfer the dough disk to the pan. Rearrange as necessary until the dough is pressed cleanly into the shape of the pan. Freeze the dough-lined pan for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 375. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet, prick the dough a few times with a fork, and cover with aluminum foil. Fill the pan with pie weights or dry beans (this will ruin them for cooking, so use something cheap) and place the cookie sheet in the oven. Bake until set, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake 10 to 15 more minutes, until the bottom of the shell is golden and the edges are deep golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
When cool, spread the bottom of the tart shell with raspberry jam in a thin, even layer. Arrange the quartered figs over the jam in concentric circles. (Lebovitz adds fresh raspberries in the center as well.) Drizzle the warm honey over the tart.
Remove the ring from the tart pan by setting the pan on a tall object with a smaller diameter than the pan (I used the base of my upside-down colander) and pressing down gently on the sides until the ring falls off. Slide the tart off the pan bottom onto a cutting board and slice into 8 pieces with a sharp knife. Serve plain or with crumbled goat cheese or melted chocolate.
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