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September 23, 2007

SHF#35: A Feast of Figs


Trust Ivonne of the wonderful Cream Puffs in Venice to come up with the perfect theme for this month's Sugar High Friday: figs. I will admit that figs were never my favorite fruit; I liked them well enough but I always preferred eating, and baking, with other more familiar fruits. This might partly be because whenever I thought of figs I thought of Fig Newtons, that bar-like cookie filled with what was supposed to be fig jam, but which tasted awful to me. I took Ivonne's theme as a challenge to renew my acquaintance with the fig and discover how I could use it in my kitchen.

Well, thank you, Ivonne, because now I have yet another ingredient to incorporate into my pastry daydreams. After much deliberation, I ended up making two desserts, because I really wanted to try both of them, and I had just bought over two pounds of black Mission figs at the market. Below, the very happy results of trying something new:


Honey Panna Cotta with Grilled Figs

The Honey Panna Cotta is from Alice Medrich's excellent new Pure Dessert, from which I can't stop baking; I saw the recipe and I thought it would be perfect paired with some figs. Indeed, the subtle, elusive sweetness of the figs, along with the slight crunch of their seeds, is a perfect foil for a silken panna cotta infused with the bright, rich flavor of honey. I had a bevy of honeys to choose from at the farmers' market; the delicately floral lavender honey was a nice match for the figs, but feel free to use your favorite.

Medrich's panna cotta is a wonder of simplicity: with cream, milk, and just a bit of gelatin, she creates an ethereal wisp of a dessert that just barely quivers under the touch of a spoon and dissolves in your mouth into pure flavor. This is about as far from Jell-O as you can get. Because Medrich is so particular about the amounts of gelatin used in order to achieve that barely-solid, on-the-verge-of-collapsing state, she prefers that this panna cotta is served in its ramekin rather than being unmolded, since it will lose its shape when it is turned out. A small price to pay for such exquisite delicacy. The warm figs, drizzled with a little more honey, taste mellow and earthy next to the panna cotta. A dreamy fall dessert.


Fig and Huckleberry Tart

This tart is one I was very excited to make, because fresh huckleberries are hard to come by in the Bay Area. I finally found some last weekend, so that triumph combined with getting the figs meant that this little number was a must. From Kate Zuckerman's The Sweet Life, this tart is a bit of a project but the rewards are immensely satisfying: a sweet crust filled with huckleberries and figs rendered gloriously gooey and jammy in the oven, topped with a lattice of puff pastry. Yes, this recipe calls for making both tart dough and puff pastry, and, of course, forming the shells and making the latticework. If you make the doughs the night before, the tart will probably take you a morning to do and you'll have a fabulously fragrant kitchen and some very delectable dessert by afternoon!

With berries in the filling and a top crust, this tart is almost like a kissing cousin of a pie. I liked having the tart dough for the shell, though; it had a buttery sweetness and the delicate crispness of the best pâte sucrée. Instead of using my old standby Pierre Hermé for the tart dough I tried Zuckerman's recipe since her other ones have turned out so well for me. Her recipe yields a dough that is remarkably soft and supple (I did have to work quickly with it before it started melting) but that bakes into a flavorful and tender crust. It's worth trying out to see how you enjoy the results. The huckleberries and figs married wonderfully together, the softly sweet figs mixing with the tart berries (my boyfriend describes huckleberries as extra-tart blueberries, and I'm inclined to agree). Tossed with a bit of sugar and butter, they turn into a filling both homey and sophisticated. Zuckerman suggests omitting the puff pastry lattice if you are short of time, but I urge you to make it if you can; the airy, sweet crunch of buttery puff on top really pushes the tart into the realm of extraordinary.

There you have it! I will never underestimate or neglect the noble fig again. Thanks again to Ivonne for showing me what I was missing out on!

Honey Panna Cotta with Grilled Figs

adapted from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert

makes (6) 6-oz ramekins

1 1/2 cups (290 g) milk

2 1/2 teaspoons (5 g) powdered unflavored gelatin

3 cups (700 g) heavy cream

1/3 cup (108 g) honey, plus extra for drizzling

1/8 teaspoon salt

12 figs

confectioner's sugar

Pour milk into a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside for a few minutes to let the gelatin dissolve; the milk will turn spongy.

Combine the cream, honey, and salt in a small saucepan and heat on stove over medium heat until it begins to steam.

Take cream mixture off the heat and add in the milk and gelatin, stirring well to make sure all the gelatin dissolves and there are no hard bits.

Pour mixture into a clean bowl and set into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and water. Let mixture cool to room temperature, stirring often.

Divide mixture among ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and store in refrigerator to chill and set overnight.

When you are ready to serve the panna cotta, slice the figs in half lengthwise, sprinkle with a bit of confectioner's sugar, and place on a toaster oven tray or baking sheet if you using the oven broiler unit.

Grill for a few minutes until they are lightly colored on the edges; don't let them burn!

Serve immediately with the panna cotta.

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Your tarteous looks so gorgeous. I really like the color of the fig painted on the tart.

Once agian you are an overachiever! Your tart looks fabulous...and with huckleberries...yum!

I too associate them with Fig Newtons. I give you credit for trying new desserts with figs. Very inspiring :)

thank you, thank you for writing the metric measurements as well; both recipes sound delicious.

Not one ,but two fig desserts! I bow to you Anita, these are awesome! I agree Alice Medrich knows her panna cottas, she is extremely stingy with gelatin which results in sublimely creamy creations.

These both look amazing!! I love the lattice top on the tarts - how wonderful!

I LOVE huckleberries! We rarely/never see them in the Midwest, but when I first sampled huckleberry ice cream in Montana last summer I fell in love! Your tart sounds heavenly!

Dear Pastry girl,
I just wanted to tell you how great your blog is, truly amazing. You are really doing a great job ;)
THanx for the cookbook review!!!
ANd I have one question: I have noticed you submitted your last post picture on tastespotting and I so did I once, but now when I tried again, it doesn't work anymore. Did you have those issues ever?


i have made zuckerman's tart before, and it is every bit as good as it looks in your beautiful photos!


You can't see me right now but I'm sitting at the PC clapping in glee (and typing). I'm thrilled to hear that you reacquainted yourself with the fig and all I can say is that you've done it in grand style!

The pana cotta is simple beauty to the extreme and the fig and huckleberry tarts are perfect.

You're brilliant, Anita. You really are.

Thanks so much for taking part in SHF #35!

such a GORGEOUS way to incorporate figs into a baked good - excellent work on your SHF #35 entry!! :0)

Once again I am in pastry heaven. I love panna cottas (blanc mangers, etc...) and I love the idea of fresh grilled figs with it. Now the pie! How neat and classy, just gorgeous!

This recipes looks amazing.!!!
And the book review made me want to buy most of them.. but ist' so hardy for me to buy this books here in Brazil.!!!
Oh... just by looking at the picture makesme want to have a bite of it..

they both look soooo amazing, though i must confess the second one is a lot of hard work !

Mmmm, huckelberries!! I became *obsessed* with them when I was in Wyoming this summer. LOVE them. And I just got my hands on Kate Zuckerman's book and was eying that recipe. Looks fab.

Great site especially the photos. This is what I hope my site can aspire to.

Long time lurker, tried your "favorite" cookies recipe and I must say, they were pretty damn close to the best I have had - save for Bouchon and a few others.

Keep up the great work!


beautiful creations!! I love figs, sent in my entry to SHF just today morning!!

your huckleberry tart is out of this world!!

The tartlets are beautiful and the honey panna cotta pairs perfectly with the figs!

Honey panna cotta with grilled figs sounds like heaven. Thanks for the post :)

stunning anita! need i say that i am joyous that you have reaquainted yourself with figs...they are my favorite food and, in my opinion, the most glorious! i must try those tarts!

Big Boys,
Thank you! I didn't really paint any figs on the tart, they just baked up in the oven that way!

Thank you! I was just so excited since it's hard to find huckleberries around here, I just had to make the recipe!

Thanks! I guess this SHF was the kick in the pants I needed to try figs again:)

Thank you! And I like to work in metric, so I'm helping myself by converting the recipes - glad to hear others find it helpful!

That had to one of the best panna cottas I ever had - now I want to try it with other flavors!

Thank you! The was really fun to make and rewarding to eat!

Thank you! It's really hard to find huckleberries here too because I think they come from Oregon or Washington, so when I found some I was so excited!

Thanks so much for your kind comments! As for tastespotting, sometimes I submit photos and they don't show up either. I read their rules and they reserve the right to post only the photos they approve of, so I just assumed my photo didn't meet their criteria. Try another one and see if it shows up! Sometimes it takes a while for them to show up too.

glad to hear you liked the tart too. I was so excited to finally make it!

Thanks to you for getting me to fall in love with the fig! Fantastic job hosting SHF (just like everything else you host) - your kitchen is the real inspiration!

Thank you! I was inspired to try different ways to enjoy this fruit!

Thank you so much! I guess the topic really did inspire me, I'm glad they came out so well!

Thank you! Both cookbooks are excellent, if you do find them I highly recommend them!

It does take some work but it's totally worth it! You kind of get into "Zen" pastry mode making the tart:)

Lucky you, it's so hard to find huckleberries here! I do suggest you try the tart when you can, it's a winner!

Thanks for delurking to comment!:) I'm glad you liked the cookie recipe too, it is a great one! I really enjoy your site - when I come to NYC I'll know exactly where to go for sweets!

Thank you, I'm glad you liked the tart! I'm going to check your entry out now!

Thank you! I started discovering all the things that would go with figs, made me realizing I should work with them more!

Thank you! It was tasty, now I want more figs to go with my honey!

Thank you! Now I'll know not to stray from figs again, I had so much fun baking with (and eating) them!

Great minds indeed. I'm very interested in your fig/huckleberry combination. It sounds like a match made in heaven.

What a beautiful looking little tart! Well worth the work.

This is absolutely divine! What a lovely grown up version of the fig bars...I used to snack on these multi-grain fig bars when I was in school. I love dry figs, but have been bit hesitant with the fresh ones, and you've just inspired me to make use of the beautiful fresh figs we get in Seattle...Thanks!

Looks like you need a separate blog just for your awards. Congratulations on your win, Anita. I love any shades of blue in a photo as they are hard to come by. I loved yr photo. For that matter, all your photos are good :)

ohh you got me drooling with the tarts pic..I mean they look absolutelly delicious I will have to talk to my wife to make me those tomorrow...I'm a sweet tooth I really can't just have a look at something like that and not try it out...

I found your post on google...a friend gave me some fresh huckleberries and asked me to make something with them. I have been dying to attempt homemade puff pastry, so I used the fig-huckleberry filling from this recipe, added cinnamon, and made it into turnovers. They turned out absolutely amazing! Thanks for posting the recipe and your comments about it!

This recipe was amazing! I made puff pastry, a small modification to the filling, and made huckleberry-fig turnovers...they turned out fabulous! Thanks for providing such a great review of the recipe.

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