Autumn is finally here, introducing itself with a firm handshake this Monday as temperatures dropped and the winds picked up. I'm not sure what's wrong with me this year. Normally, I look forward to the change in seasons, welcoming the crisp air that cuts through the stickiness of summer. The problem is, I never felt very sticky over the past few months, never felt the heat was getting to be too much. I'm having a problem letting go of summer. Maybe it's the deep seeded fear I have of the impending cold, but I can't quite bring myself to pack away summer's cotton clothes in exchange for wool.
To pluck up a bit of cold courage, I've delved deep into my favorite autumn recipes and am planning some serious kitchen time this weekend. I've bought a big bushel of honeycrisp apples, only available this time of year, which in my opinion are the king among apples here in the mid-west. I also picked up a pumpkin from a local market to display proudly on the front step until it's time to carve. If I can't look autumn in the eye now, I never will.
First in the autumn line-up is this fig tart, inspired by one of my favorite places to eat in Islington, Ottolenghi.
The first time I walked in, I had mixed emotions. I've always had dreams of owning my own restaurant, and I thought this was the place I had in my mind. Through the glass doors on your left is a picturesque display of pastries, cakes and the biggest pile of meringues you've ever seen. On the right are platters of savory dishes including meats, vegetables and quiches which you can choose to combine any way you like. Sliced rare roast beef with home made dipping sauce or the roasted chicken were always delicious. Roasted squash with chilli and yogurt or cold, crunchy broccoli with sliced almonds were lovely accompaniments.
Down the center of the narrow restaurant was a long, smooth, never-ending corian table where people sat in bright orange chairs next to strangers. For breakfast, Dualit toasters plugged in from sockets up above in order to "toast-as-you-go."
Needless to say, I loved this place. What I most remember about Ottolenghi is taking my Mom, Pam, there on her very last visit to London. She came on her own, which was very special. I took her here for lunch on the first day and she made me go back twice for the fig tart. She was at a stage in her illness that made her pickier than usual and this tart really did it for her.
I used black mission figs here, which are perfectly in season at the moment and are lusciously ripe. Use them as soon as you buy them, or they will spoil. I say this is a tart, but it's more of a sponge cake with fruity caramel topping. You can use any type of fruits for this. In fact, I had planned on making a plum tart but turned them into jam several weeks ago.
I feel like I claim that many things that I make are simple, but this is quick and easy and the results is visually impressive. I must warn you about making the caramel sauce. It's such a straightforward thing, caramel sauce, yet if you don't watch it closely, you have a dangerous mess that is unusable. On my first attempt, I got a little distracted and didn't watch it- big mistake. It quickly turned black and burnt and if this happens, you have to wait for it to cool before pouring it out and starting over. Don't put cold water in or it could splatter and burn. I carefully poured mine into an empty tin can.
If you watch the caramel sauce, it will start to turn slightly golden, take it off the heat and it will be ready to accept the little halves of figs. This is literally a one pan process. You make the caramel in a shallow pan, arrange the figs in a design you'd like to see on the top- I normally start with an outer circle of figs and work my way in. Then you simply dollop the sponge cake mix on top and pop it into the oven to bake.
I adapted this recipe from a grocery delivery company I used in London called Ocado. They had a recipe section that I would often go to for week night inspiration. I found this and worked with it until I was happy with the outcome.
Pam's Fig Tart
For the caramel sauce:
1 1/3 cups of sugar
3/4 cup of water
For the sponge cake mix:
2/3 cup of butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/5 cups self-raising flour
2 lbs figs, halved lengthwise
Preheat the oven to 325F. Halve your figs and place to one side. Combine the sugar and water in a shallow pan to make the caramel sauce. Over low heat, stir the sugar until it has dissolved and then bring the sugar water to a boil. Once it's boiling let it simmer without stirring until it starts to turn slightly golden.
Remove the pan from the heat- it will continue to bubble and become richer in color.
Let it cool slightly before placing the fruit in a nice formation (circular if you'd like.) This will be the top of your cake. In a food processor or mixer, combine the sugar, flour and butter until mixed. Add the eggs one by one until combined. Stop as soon as it comes together to form a nice sponge mixture.
Spread the mix on top of the fruit and bake for one hour. Remove from the oven and let it cool completely. Run a knife around the edges and turn it out onto a plate. Serve with creme fraiche or a dollop of greek yogurt.