Thursday, October 21, 2010

Invitation, Explanation, Figgy Tart

Hello. Welcome to my new home:

Come in through my purple front door:

Have a snack:
Stay for supper:

Because it's been awhile, and we have some catching up to do.

For more than a month now, I have been consumed by this thing called moving. My beloved and I have done it, we have, after a nine-solid-month gestation period, found a place to call our own and have officially, completely moved in. There may still be a *few* boxes out back, there may be literally nothing on the walls, but we are functioning, and those finishing touches (purple drapes, pictures to hang, a back door mat) are things I just can't rush.

This move is one big, delightful step for us in our seemingly long journey from life in Vancouver to life in California. We wanted to settle in, claim a plot, and call it home. It is starting to feel like really, we are on the right track. Sure, there are yet no goats and no chickens in our midst. Sure, we have an overabundance of asphalt for a backyard. But there is a small, promising lemon tree in the far east corner of the lot, and a towering pecan tree beside the porch. I have already gathered a plenitude of nuts. So, things are looking up.

A little about the place: it is an funky old Victorian on one of my little city's busier streets. It has three, count them, three porches, a basement, an attic, one added-on bathroom, and so many crazily tall, light-infusing windows I hardly know what to do. It feels a little like living in a tree house. In Vancouver, we lived in a hobbit-hole: dark and cozy, and completely freezing but no actual airflow. This house is high and open, almost too exposed, and has a presence about her (for it is a she). She is as I hope to be when I am old: tall and stately, intricate, and well cared for, and perfect for dinner parties.

Which is one of the reason I wanted to live here. The house feels like a family house, a place to share food, a place to write in every nook and cook from every book. And be corny.

So I have cooked. I am writing. And I had a dinner party! Alas, I have not shared yet, honestly, because I keep making really weird, only mildly edible food. I've made things that should have been great and stood out in a crowd, things like Rosy Peach Cobbler (with Rose wine--terrible--tasted like the peaches just fermented in a bad way), and Southwestern Pumpkin Chowder (ok, actually it tasted good, but I did so much tweaking in the last half hour of cooking to bring it back from the culinary dead that I have not even a hint of a clue as to how one might replicate it). So I've been kind of failing a lot.

Until yesterday. I had the vicar over from Saint Luke's Episcopal Church (which I have been frequenting during this moving insanity) for tea and made her a not-so-morning-appropriate-but-lovely-anyway figgy tart. I rather liked it. And I think it is a little different: a nutty, jammy, salty-sweet experience, one to be consumed, ideally, fairly fresh from the oven (while the edges are still crusty) and in close relation to black tea.

Figgy Tart (adapted from David Tanis' Italian Plum Cake in A Platter of Figs)

What is all the fuss about black mission figs? I wasn't sure until I tried cooking them. They really are perfect. I baked some black mission figs (dark and sweet, and a stronger 'figgy' flavor) mixed with cadota figs (green, super sweet, but delicate in flavor) alongside the tart, just to see how they fared, and there was absolutely no comparison. The black missions won me over, and though I like the subtleties of the different varieties of fresh figs, black mission is now the fig of choice for baking.

1 cup pecans
1/2 cup sugar, plus a little more for sprinkling
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/8 teaspoon salt, slightly rounded
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons sweet butter, melted
1 basket fresh black mission figs, quartered, tips nipped
pinch or two grey salt, for the top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch tart pan. Put the pecans and 1/2 cup sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground, making sure not to make pecan butter. Add the flour, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and spices and pulse once more. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Beat the eggs with the milk and stir in the melted butter. Add the egg mixture to the pecan mixture and whisk for a minute to two until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth with a spatula. Arrange the fig quarters on top in a circular pattern. Sprinkle the top with sugar until well-covered, somewhere between 2-3 tablespoons. Sprinkle with fine grey salt or fleur de sel. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the top is deeply golden and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (The photograph does not show the golden color it should be. I photographed, tried it, and put it back in the oven for another ten minutes.)

If you cannot consume it within a few hours of baking, slip it back into the oven for a reheat before serving again. Really, it makes all the difference. Enjoy!


  1. Amanda, that sounds incredible. I think the figs are basically gone from the store now, so I'll have to wait until next year. Also... I wish I could come over! What a great sounding house (not less so b/c you're in it, with your figgy tart).

  2. Amanda, this is delightful news. All of it. Congratulations on your stately house, your delectable figgy tart, the lemon and pecan trees, and room for little feet to run around. May your pantry always be stocked with beautiful eggs, butter, flour, and sugar, and your kitchen and dining room with dear friends.