ONE OF MY FAVORITE kitchen aromas is the warm, affirming smell that arises during the last ten minutes that a butter crust is in the oven. It smells like home and it feels like joy, and the entire house becomes bright with promise and the expectation of a flaky, enlivening treat. And when you’ve struggled to get your crust not to crumble, and not to become stiff, and especially not to roll out too thin or too short — well, the scent then is particularly rewarding and satisfying.
Surprises have been on my mind a lot lately, courtesy of my writing course. I expected to spend the 10-day bootcamp writing poem after frantic poem, finding after a particularly exhausting writing jaunt that I had written nothing but rubbish and poorly punctuated lines and scrapping all with a scowl — but I’ve found myself delving into fiction instead, for the first time since high school. It’s awkward, terrifying, and so much fun. It’s sort of like slipping into a winter coat you’d forgotten you owned and finding the sleeves a little stiff and the hem a bit frayed. But there’s a crumpled $5 note in the inside pocket and you suddenly have visions of yourself using that $5 for all sorts of wonderful (and cheap) pursuits. Such promise! Such wonder!
It’s always nice to surprise yourself sometimes, too, I think.
When a friend of my mother’s invited me to pick her fig tree clean of its fruit, I took to the project with some sort of freakishly wild abandon; I whooped and hollered under that tree, and scared some figs down and into a bag. The rest, I plucked from the tree — she, you see, is not a fan of figs and is doing everything she can to get rid of the “nasty things.” Well, here I am.
And since I’ve been playing around with crust, and since I have developed a sudden affection for baking with ricotta, and since I am now the proud (so proud!) owner of a hand mixer — well, nothing would do but a fig tart. I took the crust recipe from Simply Recipes and, though you can easily use it for a galette, I lined my pie plate and filled it up with a grainy, lemony tart filling and topped it off with the halved figs. The lemon zest is the surprise here, and the fact that the figs lose some of their sweetness in the baking. And the crust: heavens, it smells good.
I expect I’ll find myself writing about tarts and pies in my bootcamp story — if not tonight then maybe tomorrow.
And because I’m feeling particularly generous and dance-y today, here: have a little joy for the afternoon.
Lemon Ricotta Fig Tart
Again, the butter crust recipe is from Simply Recipes, and though it’s a time consuming endeavor — freeze the butter? refrigerate the dough? — it’s a ridiculously easy dough recipe, and I’ve already used it for three different free-form galettes. The only thing I’d add is that keeping the dough cold really does help in working with it. I even refrigerated my rolling pin.
Before rolling out the dough, I made the filling. That way, I could refrigerate the filling while I was wrestling with the dough, bringing it out just when I was ready to fill the pastry shell. Efficiency!
- 2 oz cream cheese
- 3/4 c ricotta
- 1/4 c sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- dash salt
- zest of a small lemon, or 1/2 a large lemon
- 1 lb figs, tips cut off and discarded, halved
Preheat oven to 375F.
In a medium sized bowl, use a hand mixer (or elbow grease!) to beat together the cream cheese and ricotta. Beat in the sugar, then the vanilla and salt. Beat in the lemon zest last — I actually zested it right over the mixing bowl — and set aside in the fridge.
Separately, halve all the figs and set aside.
When the dough is rolled out, place it in your pie plate and firmly press to the edges. Fill with the ricotta cheese filling, and top with the halved figs. Bake at 375F for 45-50 minutes, til the edges of the crust are golden and the figs have darkened somewhat.
Now, this is a pie that I think is better cold, so when you remove it from the oven, let it cool by itself — but then tuck it back into the fridge for a few hours. It’ll hold its shape better that way, and oh! The lemon zest comes through crisp and clear, and what a difference that makes.