p2: Fig Tart

The Sweet

fig tartThe use of Figs in French dessert has never been that mysterious, its origins being as simple as figuring out when the fruit originally moved into the country and/or, if indigenous, when people started eating them. As such I’ve found that the real story of the Fig Tart is not the story of the fig, oh no, but the story of the Baked Almond Cream, known as Frangipane, sitting beneath them.

Today, frangipane is a paste, typically made from ground almonds, butter, and sugar, very similar to the candy Marzipan (France really is well known for their almond candies… think I’m gonna be making one in the future), differentiating from it solely by its inclusion of eggs and, most importantly, the fact that it is used solely to fill pastries and tarts that are then baked. It wasn’t always like this, however; it’s spun from an interesting origin.

The base origin of the name is said to come from Italy in the 1500’s (or 1700’s, sources are debated) under the nobleman and perfumier (to King Louis XIII supposedly) Marquis Muzio Frangipani, who at the time had introduced and sold almond-scented gloves. This handwear was so popular that, and so delightful to the nose, that pastry chefs all around tried to capture the scent in various fillings for desserts, naming it thus frangipani.

By the mid 1700’s, France was using the term themselves to describe a very creamy, custard tart thus scented with almonds or pistachios. This became the set recipe for frangipane in the country until tastes and habits turned to a denser, stronger almond paste, likely around the time marzipan really came into popularity.

Whether the evolution was really this simple and sole-purposed is unclear; another explanation states it originally comes from Franchipane, meaning ‘coagulated milk’ and likely twisted slightly to offer its name to an 1844 French dictionary recipe/definition of Frangipan, an artificial milk made by mixing evaporated skimmed milk with sugar and almonds.

Taken separately, mixing together, or however these two supposed origins did it, they nonetheless lead to the baking almond paste as it is today. Used in the center of King’s Cake and tarts of Fig and stone fruit alike, these desserts revel in the beautifully fragrant, nutty flavors that is the almond.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

20140830_231545This session’s tart shell is one that I’ve wanted to try for a while, and will likely attempt again in the future for fun. The recipe is quite interesting, and practically the opposite of every pie dough one can imagine; instead of taking cold, cold chunks of butter and cutting it into the flour, one bakes the fat until bubbling (and lightly browned) and dumps the flour in. The process, especially the point about stirring until it pulls from the sides, almost reminds me of pate-a-choux (can’t wait to make those again btw). What’s extra nice is it doesn’t need rolling out, just pressed directly into one’s pan of choice and baked, yielding a product that seems to caramelize and crunch nicely when finished properly.

Speaking of pans, if one is able to, I almost require the use of an actual French tart pan; less so because it’s ‘proper’, but one needs that low, sharp lip that pie pans just don’t have, and especially since we need to be able to take the whole tart OUT of the pan once it’s cooled. This is why many a proper tart pan’s circular bottom is separate from the sides, allowing one to push up and remove the metal from around your baked masterpiece. Oh, and I’m sure those curvy-flowery-edges help the dough get crispier from more surface area or something.

IF you don’t have one, however, much like myself, I do believe there’s one good substitution: Cheesecake. Or, as they’re mainly known, Springform Pans, which can lock and detach their round sides from the bottom quite snugly. Sides go straight up too, everything is completely non-stick, so they make for a great near-perfect switch-out. The only think I’d say, other than maybe the metal doesn’t conduct as well as a classic tart pan would, is that you’ll want to wrap some foil around the bottom during cooking; some really thin liquids WILL still leak out (my figs started juicing the bottom of the oven while baking! Oops).

20140831_181942As for the figs themselves, not sure about you but I’ve found it’s always been a bitch to get some good ones here in the Midwest, and unless you live in a state much closer to their production I’m guessing it’ll be the same to you. We still get a lot of them in the right season, have walked in on figs in my co-op plenty of times, but finding a basket where almost none have brown spots, cuts, blemishes, big soft spots, etc… it’s rare when I find one. Thus one can see why I jumped at the chance to make the tart this weekend, luckily finding an ideal basket on a random store trip, and with friends in town!

Oh, which before I forget and get too wrapped up in my fig-bitching, Colored figs are the most ideal for this dish. Any purple, or ideally those ones that are purple on the lower half but sort of green on top (think it’s a French species), are what you wanna go for. ‘White’ and striped green figs taste beautiful and fresh, thus why I plated my Suzette with them, but they’re too delicate for baking purposes; why would you even want to? As for the Brown Turkish, that’s your call.

In conjunction with figs, Oranges will play an integral role in your final Tart. Tasting well together, and with almonds, I’ve found quite a few recipes, old and new, that have added a tablespoon of zest or a bit of juice into their frangipane or shell. This leads me to conclude that not only would it be alright to include the aromatic citrus in a classic rendition, it’d be almost a crime NOT to use it if one attempts making a properly traditional, French Fig Frangipane Tart (kept in small amounts of course).

20140831_091212When it comes to making the frangipane, one of the most essential things is the combining and integration of the butter and almond meal. This is done, very simply and easily, with a nicely powered food processor. Which immediately means I’m screwed, because the only one I have is tiny, and really doesn’t cut things up THAT well anyways. Great for small amounts, but I have to work with a lot of this stuff at the same time. So I have to stick with my electric mixer; because of that, I need to make sure my almond meal is as fine as I can make it, and hope things work. To do this, I have to toast and grind the almonds myself, using my coffee(which it’s never used for)/spice grinder, always a handy tool if you have one like it; only need to blitz it quickly before it tries to make Almond Butter. On that note, one could also just go to one of those Whole Foods or co-ops where you grind your own almond butter and just use THAT as your fine-meal substitution, if  you don’t mind the extra deeply cooked nutty flavors. But that’s just an idea, and again I always like making my own stuff purely from scratch if I can.

Almost forgot. The finer the sugar grains the better; had to use a bigger grain since it was the only thing I had other than powdered sugar (THAT is a no-no), attributed a bit of graininess though flavor was good.

My Thoughts

Normally I save this part until near the end, but the fact of the matter is that, as far as I am concerned, I ended up ‘failing’ with my attempt at this dish. The tart dough ended up notably drier than I wanted, despite my absolute following of the recipe I am convinced that they’ve included too much flour (or not enough butter) to reproduce the dough that the original article so researched/interviewed to get (I noticed pictures another post that had the same recipe looked similar to my much stiffer, not-so-tender clump of butter-flour). As such I’ve readjusted it below to suit what should create a more successful attempt.

Secondly, and most important, I over roasted my almonds. Well, that’s not to say I burned them, but when I read that the almonds should be toasted, I cooked them to the level that I always toast them. With that nice, even color of light brown throughout, getting a tasty and deep nutty flavor reminiscent of the candied nut bags one finds at the market. Alas, I have come to realize this particular predilection is a more American assumption, for to toast almonds in France (at least for marz/frangipane) must mean to do it to the absolute minimum, with no color change. My little paste thus ended up deep, deep brown in color, with a flavor not unlike Almond Butter (peanut butter’s cousin), and much denser than I assume the texture should be after baking.

20140831_191841I still went through with the whole thing, and all-together it made for a very delicious baked tart nonetheless; crumbly pie shell, rich nuttiness and baked fruit that when combined tasted like a refined PBnJ, with a delightfully sticky and tart glaze/sauce on top. But nonetheless, the end result is much different than it should have been.

Hopefully, I can attempt this again sometime in the future. And if ever I do, I’ll make sure to post the picture and results here to thus fix my error.

‘French’ Fig Tart
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)
1 ½ cups or more (depending on preference) Frangipane (recipe follows)
1 dozen Purple Figs
Desired Glaze or Jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Pipe or spoon Frangipane into Tart Shell, spreading the surface out with spatula to create a smooth, even layer.20140831_182920
  3. Halve or quarter figs, as desired, and arrange on top in close-nit, attractive pattern, with seeds facing upwards. Press down to better nestle into the almond paste.
  4. Bake in oven, with aluminum foil under pan if using springform, around 30-40 minutes, until frangipane is set and figs have softened. Depending on desired finish, one may want to increase heat to 425 during last 10 minutes so as to bake and caramelize figs more thoroughly.20140831_191627
  5. Remove, moving to a cooling rack, carefully releasing the sides of the pan after a few minutes to leave bare.
  6. While this cools, head your Glaze/Jam in pan or microwave until thin, brushing an even, shiny coat over the top of your tart.20140831_194134
  7. Slice when reached the preferred temperature (hot or cold is still good), serve with any fresh fruit or ice cream.

Tart Shell
120 grams Butter
1 Tb Vegetable Oil
3 Tb Water
Tb Sugar
Tsp Salt
140 grams Flour

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 410F
  2. Place Butter, Oil, Water, Sugar and Salt in oven-proof bowl and ‘bake’ for around 20 minutes, until butter is bubbling and has started to brown on the sides20140830_234213
  3. Quickly remove and dump in your Flour, stirring until it’s incorporated and pulls from the side of the pan.20140830_234755
  4. Plop into the center of your pan, pressing with spatula to start spreading it out.20140830_234946
  5. When it’s cool enough to handle easily, press dough with palm and knuckles to cover the bottom and sides of the pan in a thin, even layer.20140831_000833
  6. Prick thoroughly with fork and transfer to oven. Bake around 10-12 minutes, until dough is golden brown (as evenly as one can get it without any burning).20140831_001956
  7. Remove and leave on counter to cool. Cover with plastic, reserving on side until ready to use.

Almond Frangipane
325 grams Whole Almonds, Raw
125 grams Butter, softened
150 grams Sugar
1 Tb Flour
2 Eggs
Tsp Salt
1-2 tsp Orange Zest
1-2 Tb Grand Marnier

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400F20140830_231531
  2. Spread Almond on baking sheet and Lightly Toast in oven, 5-8 minutes at most
  3. Remove, let cool20140831_091431
  4. Pulse in food processor, or in spice grinder in small batches, until almonds are turned into a fine meal or, ideally,  powder20140831_104519
  5. Seperately, cream Butter and Sugar and Salt in processor or in bowl with electric mixer until fluffy.20140831_104602
  6. Slowly add in the almond meal and Flour, a bit at a time, mixing on high speed to full blend and break the two substances together into a smoth paste.20140831_104816
  7. Mix in eggs.
  8. Fold in Orange Zest and/or Grand Marnier once paste is fully homogenized.20140831_105719
  9. Transfer to bag or other container, leave in fridge until half an hour or so before use, letting it come to room temperature to handle.

Possible Pairings

20140831_193916Before I get into general matches, I actually happen to own a bottle of an Italian Biscotti-flavored Liqueur which ended up absolutely delicious with figs and almonds; even better since the heavy toasted-nut notes of MY creation mirrored the biscuitty-flavors of the cookie drink. Bits of orange flavor as well go along with the same orange aromas mixed into the almonds, and hints of fennel/aniseed and other spices used to recreate the typical biscotti flavors perfume beautifully alongside the delicate figs. It also ended up as a fun tie-in to the notable Italian origins. Great to chill and drink right next to it, or pour it on top of the slice.

Following the liqueur train of thought, Amarretto is an obvious choice to gently lift and undertone the crunchy tart. Whereas an orange-based liqueur, preferably something bright and fresh like Orangecellos, or Honey Liqueur can bring out the fresh figgy flavors out more.

A simple thought to finish this up quickly: Sherry, say a Manzanilla (lighter variety) if made properly, or an Amontillado (darker, oxidized variety) if encountering overcooked almonds like thus. The pleasantly strong nut aromatics blend into the food well, the dish is nicely refreshing, and the dry salty components could be a fun contrast with the sweetness, keeping it away from a too-sweet finish like a liqueur might do.sherry

p1: Sole Meunier

The Dish

Famously known as the meal that launched Julia Child’s desire for the French kitchen, one could theory Sole Meunier as singularly responsible for America’s culinary history as it is today. Reverse that, we could also say that if not for enhanced-buzz-20146-1389047781-0Julia Child’s inspiration and success, this highly simple dish of pan-seared flatfish with butter sauce might never have graced the books as a true “French Classic” along with its many compatriots. Perhaps it’d have been bullied out by a roaming pack of angry Langoustines…

But luckily for us, we don’t have to consider the dystopian alternate dimension that union would have destroyed, and we can experience and enjoy those lovely flavors for ourselves! And how easy it is to put together. The actual dish, born in the Northern area of France along the Rivers and Seaside and now famous for Rouen, consists purely of two main steps. A nice filet of sole is dredged in flour and sautéed in butter, the “Meuniere,” or “Miller’s Wife” style, and then topped with a lemony brown butter sauce (made in the same pan). So let’s get into it shall we?

A Word On…

Fish: Sole isn’t necessarily the easiest of fish to come by in a regular supermarket, but luckily for us it’s not that rare either, especially since there are multiple kinds of Sole available: Dober, Lemon, Petrale, and other very similar Flatfish in its family such as Turbot and Flounder. One should be able to find a good, fresh version of it, off and on, at any market with a decent meat and seafood section. Back home I mainly rely on the local Coastal Seafood, an amazing store that really focuses on acquiring only good quality, sustainable Fish and Seafood products.SAMSUNG

If a Substitution is need or desired in anyway, look for any white fish with naturally “thinner” filets and meat. Though it’s also a member of the Flatfish family, I would never suggest using Halibut as a “proper” substitute, as the meat is always just so thick, not to mention its becoming a bit generic of a fish.

Oh, and please buy fresh; no frozen fish for a nice, proper meal!

Brown Butter: This recipe relies on the cook adding butter into the pan AFTER cooking the Sole, which is then transferred to a covered plate and/or oven to keep warm, while they make brown butter a-la-minute. Which is what I’m doing so as to follow the traditional recipe of course, but I don’t actually see this step as truly needed so as to receive the same results.

A fun suggestion for those who don’t want to wait for the sauce to cook, or don’t want to risk any cooling off or drying out of the out-of-action-fish, is to make a batch of browned butter beforehand. Just toss a bunch of unsalted butter into a saucepot and turn on med-high. After it melts, start stirring it occasionally and keep an eye; the solids and liquids will start to separate as it changes color, deepening to a nice chestnut brown. Once those rich aromas of nuts and caramelization start to surface, you know you’re done (or close to it); take off the heat and either strain or sift out the cooked solids.

Once prepared, you can just add a scoop of this directly to the pan in place of raw butter, warming quickly for an instant brown sauce. Added bonus, you can make a large batch of brown butter ahead and use the deliciously caramelly fat to flavor a number of things (pour some over warm steak, OH so good).

Sides: It actually took me a while to find out what this is traditionally served with, as most recipes just talk about the fish, or may have some random veggie or starch with no discussion into if the origins are shared or not. But, after a bit of searching, the “classic” accompaniment to Sole Meunier is Boiled Potatoes. Though I’m not stopping you from enjoying it with mashed potatoes, baked, rice (white or brown or wild), or whatever you want. It’s just a fun thing to know I think.

Sole Meunier
2 Filets Sole (Dober, Turbot, etc)
1-2 Tb Flour
½ Tb chopped Thyme
Salt n Pepper
6 Tb Butter
2 Tb Lemon Juice
2 Tb chopped Parsley

Directions

  1. Clean , Filet, and Deskin Sole, if not done alreadySAMSUNG
  2. Preheat large sauté pan to Medium
  3. Lightly dredge fish in a mixture of Flour, Thyme, and Seasonings
  4. Melt 1 Tb of Butter in pan, lay skin (flat) side down in pan, letting rest 3 minutes until lightly crisped before flipping over.SAMSUNGSAMSUNG
  5. Remove after another 3 minutes, crisped with fully cooked, tender flesh. Transfer to a plate covered in foil, or into a warm oven, and turn pan heat up to med-high.SAMSUNG
  6. Add in rest of the butter, whisking and watching carefully until it turns and amber-brown tone, releasing rich, gentle nutty flavors.SAMSUNG
  7. Quickly whisk in Lemon juice and chopped Parsley, move the warm filets onto a plate alongside Boiled Potatoes, and drape your Brown Butter Sauce over the top of each.
  8. Enjoy

The Verdict

Tender, juicy filets with subtle notes of proper fish flavor (not “fishy,” but that noted freshness and roundness of the sea in the back of your mouth), just making for a great bight of the ocean. Eaten with that heavy but soft texture of the boiled potatoes, which still lets every delicate note in the Sole shine alongside the starch’s mild flavor, and one just has warm happiness. Then we top the both of them with the toasty, nutty butter, the contrasting lemon juice offering an interesting zinginess to the dish as a whole.SAMSUNG

The one thing I regret is I don’t think I got the kind of crust I could have, especially after seeing a few other recipes for this. If making this, best to ensure that one gets a good, even and “thick” coating of the flour, along with some more butter in the pan whilst frying. But besides that I think it came out as a deliciously simple fish dish.

Primary Pairing – French Blonde Ales – “Biere de Garde”

I’m pretty sure it’s the potatoes, because right after I learned of serving them as a side for this my tastebuds started to crave a creamy, sudsy, full medium-bodied blonde beer. Something with the weight of a Vouvray to match those boiled spuds but a freshness and purity in aroma similar to Sancerre to pair with the delicate fish and sauce. And with the center of France’s non-wine fermented drinks (such as cider and beer) starting to appear as one slowly travels to the colder areas of the Norther Reaches and Alps, this becomes one of the great dishes in this list to introduce the pairing possibilities.

Sadly, French Beers aren’t the most often seen in the hordes of selections at various wine and spirit stores, beer focused or non. I find many of the lighter malted Belgians a great stand-in as well, such as Saisons. And speaking of Belgians…

My Bottle: Belgium Tripel Karmeliet

SAMSUNGAh, I’m so glad we had this guy hiding in our downstairs fridge. Made with a combination of Wheat, Oat, and Barley, this slightly fuller version of one’s typical pale ale gives a nicely malty, grainy palette that pairs really well with the browned butter. Combined with the typical Belgian citrusy, fruity floral hop nose to balance the tart lemon presence, this makes for an excellent beer to pair with a dish like this. Then there’s getting into elements like body matching, tannins, contrasting light bitterness with fat, etc, but all we need to know at this point is that it works and is very delicious.

The best part, in my opinion, is being able to enjoy and highlight a good quality beer with light complexity next to what is ultimately a very simple and uncomplicated fish dish.

Which is always a great rule to keep in note when one starts getting SAMSUNGinto Fine End Food n Wine pairing: if the flavors in One of them is Complex, the Other should be Simple. Having two simple things is fine, but if both elements are complex, they end up battling and drowning each other out in a confusing whirlwind of loud and buried molecules. That doesn’t mean they can’t both be high quality; a very well cooked Filet Mignon next to a Grand Cru Musigny (Burgundy), or a Paella of the freshest Seafoods accompanied by a sharply acidic and juicy Sancerre from a good year.

And there you have your Unneeded Rambling Wine Lesson of the Month!! -exaggerated thumbs up-

Secondary Pairing – Cremant de Loire

Or a Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Cru Communaux (basically quality Muscadet from Clisson, le Pallet, or Gorges which have spent 18+ months on their Lies, or yeasty sediment), if you can find it. Both have nice, lighter fruit and mineral-based flavors and aroma, faint and delicate sparkling qualities (Muscadets being known for just a bare petillant fizz) to bring only a bare amount of tannin in, and just enough yeasty, bready creaminess to stand up with the potatoes and walk alongside the browned butter. Overall I think it’d come in as a perfectly buttery, frothy, starchy, nummy mouth party. Not to mention the whole Regional pairing aspect along the Loire river.

Take that next to a Champagne, which brings larger bodies, super-rich toasty bread notes, and more noted CO2 on the palette, it’d overpower the dish as a whole by a few small steps.SAMSUNG

If you enjoyed the sound of this dish, you should see what I did with its leftovers Here!