Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Fresh Fig Tartlets with Mascarpone & Chocolate Black Pepper Crust
Edible figs originated in Arabia and were first cultivated by the Mesopotamians. In fact figs are held by many to be one of the ancient world’s first 5 domesticated crops – along with olives, grapes, pomegranates, and dates. And that, incidentally, is how this site came by its name.
Figs were cultivated in the northern Mediterranean by 1600 B.C.E., thanks to the Phoenicians who brought them there - first on the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes, Sicily, Malta, and Corsica, and later in the mainland Phoenician colonies of Spain, Portugal, and France.
Subsequently, the fig spread to Italy and Greece, where it was incorporated into popular mythology and quickly became a staple for rich and poor alike. The Ancient Greeks and Romans both considered figs to be restorative – especially to the convalescent. They were commonly held to fortify the young and to invigorate the elderly. And whenever I bite into a juicy in-season fig, I have to agree. How could that subtly perfumed sweetness not be medicinal, after all?
Fig season is already wrapping up in this part of the world, but I wanted to share one more way we celebrate the harvest around here before they’re gone. I’m not one for ultra-fussy desserts at home, so these tartlets are essentially nothing more than chocolate cookies swirled with creamy mascarpone cheese and topped with the fresh fig slices. Here the whole is scented with Marsala wine and orange zest. And I find the earthiness of the chocolate to be a great foil for figs, especially when it’s punctuated with the subtle bite of black pepper – something I love with fruit year-round.
The chocolate and black pepper crust here is based on Julia Child’s “Chocolate Dough” in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking with Julia, because I really can’t imagine ever improving on that! And thanks so much to you all for your comments while I was gone. I must say I really missed you, and everyone’s questions and kind words have been truly wonderful to come home to! I’m looking forward immensely to visiting all of your sites and catching up on what I missed while I was in Maine.
Makes about 10 – 12 tartlets
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, or less, depending on taste
4 oz. very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes or grated
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp ice water
2 tbsp melted butter
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
1 vanilla bean
2 tbsp Marsala wine
1 lb fresh figs, sliced thinly from top to bottom
zest of 1 orange
Place the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and pepper into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add the egg yolk and ice water and pulse just until a crumbly dough starts to form – do not overwork, or your crusts will be tough.
Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. The dough freezes for 1 month if wrapped well and sealed in a freezer-safe bag.
When ready to continue, preheat the oven to 350 F and brush a baking sheet with melted butter.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit for 10 minutes – just to come up to a workable temperature. Scatter a clean work surface with a small amount of flour and roll the dough out to about 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Remember that the less the dough is worked and heated, the more tender it will be. So work quickly, and use your fingertips rather than the palms of your hands.
Using a 3 ½ or 4 inch round cookie cutter (fluted if possible), cut out circles of dough and transfer to the baking sheet. Roll out the dough scraps again and cut out more circles. Continue until you’ve used up the dough.
Prick the dough circles all over with a fork and bake for 8 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 4 to 8 minutes until the crusts are dry and firm. Place the baking sheet on a rack to cool.
In a medium bowl, stir the mascarpone cheese until creamy. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add them to the mascarpone with the Marsala wine and stir until well combined.
Just before serving, divide the mascarpone cheese between the tart crusts and swirl out with the back of a spoon. Arrange the fig slices (about 9 - 11 for each tartlet) with their tops pointing in to the center of the circle (see photo above), and sprinkle each one with a few strips of orange zest. Serve immediately.
This recipe is my submission for Sugar High Friday #35, and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice is hosting the event this month. The theme is The Beautiful Fig, so I'm sure the round up will be truly sumptuous. Thanks Ivonne!