The no-muss, no-fuss beauty of a fig tart

A fresh fig tart, in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. The key to success with the tart is superb figs: They can’t be so jammy that they collapse when you cut them into quarters or sixths, but they should be sweet and ripe.
A fresh fig tart, in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. The key to success with the tart is superb figs: They can’t be so jammy that they collapse when you cut them into quarters or sixths, but they should be sweet and ripe. NYT

Once, years ago in the South of France, I saw a sign in front of a small inn on a hairpin turn that said “Aujourd’hui, Tarte aux Figues”: Today, fig tart.

I rounded the turn, and as soon as I reached a clear straightaway, I turned my rented Renault around and went back for lunch.

I have been trying to recreate that tart ever since. I think with this one, I have finally surpassed it.

The formula is straightforward: a sweet pie dough that doesn’t require prebaking, a layer of almond cream (a mix of almond flour, powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, almond extract and an egg) baked in the tart shell, fig jam and fresh figs.

The key to success is superb figs. They can’t be so jammy that they collapse when you cut them into quarters or sixths, but they should be sweet and ripe.

If you have the time and inclination, and a lot of those fresh figs, you can make the fig jam. But I have made the tart with store-bought and homemade jam, and both versions are irresistible.

Usually I roll out the pastry a day ahead or pull a shell directly from the freezer, if I have one on hand. (If you make a practice of freezing excess dough rolled out in a pan, you are always just a few hours away from a homemade tart.)

Mixing up the almond cream takes no time at all; you spread this evenly over the pastry shell and bake it for 40 minutes. Once it is cool, spread on the jam and arrange the figs on top.

The finished tart will make you look like a pastry chef. No one needs to know how easy it was.

Fresh Fig Tart

Total time: 2 hours, plus at least 5 hours’ chilling; yield: One 9-inch tart

For the crust:

6 ounces (168 grams) unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), preferably French style with 82 percent fat, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup (112 grams) confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Rounded 1/3 cup (39 grams) almond flour, sifted

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 extra-large egg, beaten

2 2/3 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour or cake flour, sifted

For the tart:

2/3 cup (70 grams) almond flour

3/4 cup (70 grams) confectioners’ sugar

3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon cake flour or all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons/2 1/2 ounces (70 grams) unsalted butter, preferably French style, at room temperature

Pinch of fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 extra-large egg, beaten

1 tablespoon dark rum

1/2 cup (150 grams) fig jam, either homemade or store-bought

18 ounces (500 grams) fresh figs

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Prepare the crust: In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sea salt on medium speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula and add confectioners’ sugar. Combine with butter at low speed. Once incorporated, scrape down bowl and paddle. Add almond flour and vanilla extract and combine at low speed.

Gradually add egg and a quarter of the flour (scant 1/2 cup or 55 grams). Beat at low speed until just incorporated. Scrape down bowl and paddle. Gradually add remaining flour and mix just until dough comes together, stopping from time to time to scrape in any mixture adhering to sides and bottom of bowl. Do not overbeat. Dough should be soft to the touch.

Separate dough into two equal portions. Gently press each portion into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle. Double-wrap airtight in plastic wrap. Refrigerate one dough portion for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight; chill or freeze the second portion for another use.

Very lightly butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. (You should not be able to see the butter.) On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 10 1/2-inch circle, 1/4 inch thick. Dust work surface and dough often, and work quickly so dough remains cold. Gently roll dough over lightly dusted rolling pin and transfer to pan, gently easing it in and trimming the top edge. Chill uncovered for at least 1 hour, preferably longer.

Prepare the tart: Heat oven to 325 degrees. Sift together almond flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch and flour into a medium bowl.

Place butter, salt and vanilla and almond extracts in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and beat 1 minute at medium speed. Scrape down bowl and paddle, and add almond flour mixture. Beat at medium speed for 1 minute, until incorporated. Stop, scrape down bowl and paddle, then turn on machine and gradually add egg. Add rum and beat at medium speed until egg and rum are incorporated.

Remove tart shell from refrigerator and place on a baking sheet. Using a fork, pierce rows across surface of crust, about 1 inch apart. Scrape almond cream onto crust and, using a small offset or rubber spatula, spread evenly over crust.

Place in oven and bake 40 minutes, until crust and almond cream are golden brown and the tip of a knife comes out clean when inserted into cream. Remove from oven and let cool for 40 minutes on a rack.

Using a small spatula, spread fig jam over surface of tart in an even layer.

Remove stems from figs. Cut small and medium figs into quarters, large figs into sixths or eights. Arrange in concentric circles, starting with the rim, with the stem end down. Slices should angle upward. If not serving right away, refrigerate. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Fig Jam

Total time: 30 minutes, plus several hours of chilling

Yield: About 2 cups

1 1/4 pounds (600 grams) ripe figs, cut in small dice

2 1/2 cups (480 grams) sugar, divided

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh strained lemon juice

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. In a large bowl, toss together chopped figs and half the sugar. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2. Transfer figs and sugar to a small stainless or enameled saucepan. (The pan should not be more than twice the volume of the fruit and sugar mixture.) Over medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula. When mixture comes to a boil, scrape back into bowl and cover with plastic. Let cool, then refrigerate overnight.

3. Scrape fig mixture back into the saucepan. Have a skimmer and a bowl of water handy. Place a small plate in the refrigerator. Bring fruit back to a boil over medium heat, stirring. When mixture comes to a boil, stir in remaining sugar, the lemon juice and the balsamic vinegar. Boil, stirring, until mixture is thick but not too concentrated, 10 to 15 minutes. Skim off any foam that rises, dipping the skimmer into the bowl of water to remove the foam.

4. To test for doneness, remove plate from refrigerator and place a spoonful of the jam on it. Wait about 20 seconds and tilt the plate. The jam should only run slightly, and slowly. Boil a little longer if it seems too runny, but take care not to cook it until too thick. It needs to be spreadable.

5. Transfer to a bowl or a sterilized jar. Cover and let cool, then refrigerate.