Friday, November 9, 2012
Fig, Pear and Frangipane Tart
Cooking and baking are about learning techniques and understanding flavor profiles. The idea of flavor profiles can be broken down into two parts: what tastes good together (for example, seafood and lemon or tomatoes and basil) and learning what's in season and therefore tastes good right now. The more you experiement in the kitchen, try new things at restaurants, visit your local farmer's market, watch your favorite cooking shows and read cooking/food blogs, the more knowledge you accumulate. The goal is to start using all this knowledge and start cooking intuitively. If you've made a stew, roasted a chicken or put together a vinaigrette a few times, you start to rely on your knowledge and depend less on recipes. If you know what's in season, you learn to adapt recipes to ingredients that will taste the best right now.
Fig season is technically over, but they are still all over markets here and perfectly ripe. (I think the warm October we experienced in Southern California has something to do with it.) Autumn pears are starting to come in as well. Pears, figs and nuts go well together. Especially in a tart. What I love about this combo is that it's both elegant and comforting. I've served this at formal parties and causal get togethers.
I wanted to make an autumn dessert using these ingredients so I adapted my summer tart recipe Berry Frangipane Tart by simply changing the fruit and baking the tart with the fruit, instead of keeping it raw. If you learn the technique in making a tart, you can adapt it to any season and any occasion.
I've made a few of these over the last couple weeks and you can see some of my different fruit arrangements (and iphone photo editing experiments.) There's no wrong way to make a tart, unless you make it upside down - and then it's just called a cobbler. The basic technique is par baking a tart shell (half baking it so the bottom doesn't get soggy when you add the almond cream) and then spreading it with a layer of frangipane and fruit and baking it together. If you're worried about rolling out the dough, just double the recipe and you have plenty of room for error and can peice together broken scraps with your fingers. I totally do this. Before the second and longer baking, I usually sprinkle the top with raw or turbinado sugar to give it a golden color and a little crunch. The frangipan firms up around the fruit creating a custardy bed holding everything together.
Other seasonal items that would be great in a tart right now are apples, persimmon, nuts, chocolate, pumpkins, squash, dates, even grapes. I made a delicious grape tart recently, unfortunately I forgot to take photos. I just picked a bunch of big seedless red grapes of the stem, washed and dried them, and piled them on the frangipane cream, baking everything for about 45 minutes. Served with a glass of port and Stilton and you have another winning food pairing. All these tarts will vary on baking time. After 30 minutes, check periodically. You want the fruit tender, and starting to brown, but you don't want the crust to burn. It's not complicated - trust your instinct.
I served the tart in the first photo with vanilla ice cream, a brush of dark chocolate sauce and a few drops of reduced balsamic vinegar, another great pairing with figs and pears....
Before the second baking...
Getting ready to plate for a dinner party...