Lemon Ricotta Fig Tart

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!

The Filling

  • 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.




Lemon Curd Ricotta Scones

TEATIME is a magical time, as far as I’m concerned.  When I was a child, I’d race home from school at 3pm and my mother would be there, with something small to eat and a game to play; later, in high school, the tradition changed to a cup of tea, a chat — something beyond the milk and cookies of elementary and middle school, and something that felt like it was approaching Adulthood.  Now, I suppose firmly entrenched in adulthood, I enjoy taking my tea as a time to recoup.  A time to gather myself together.  To sift through flavors and memories, to-do lists and small errands, planned projects and expected adventures.  Teatime is the chance to dream; and what are to-do lists but the preparation for larger endeavors?  Get the errands out of the way, and then — ah, then, explore.

And sometimes the to-do list is the adventure, especially when it reads “write 1000 words today, and 1000 words tomorrow, and learn to bake a flaky, satisfying pie crust sometime in between.”

I’ve been seeking magic in small moments lately.  In the cloudburst sunset over the neighbor’s house; the smell of mint crushed into my fingertips after plucking a few leaves from the garden; the butterflies that trail by the kitchen window in the early afternoon.  As the father in Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know says, “I am prepared for amazing things to happen.  I can handle it.”

I’ve signed up for a writing bootcamp, to start July 1st and last for 10 days.  I may get very little from it but a greater perspective on the discipline it takes to sit and write for hours — and maybe I’ll surprise myself and have something I’m actually proud of at the end of the 10 days.  We shall see.

In the meantime, I’ve been populating my teatimes with scones.  I stumbled across Smitten Kitchen’s raspberry ricotta scone recipe, which is an absolutely wonderful and earthy scone that finally (finally!) introduced me to a pastry blender and Changed. My. Life.  (Don’t believe me? Seriously; try one out after years of the old two-knives-and-a-fork method of cutting butter).  Pastry blenders are things of major, major magical properties.  This is not exaggeration.

But I ran out of raspberries, and my mother had this lovely bottle of lemon curd from World Market just sitting there in her pantry, begging for use.  So I used it.  And I know: it’s sort of a cheat, not to have made my own lemon curd.  But these scones, I don’t think they mind the affront.  These aren’t snooty scones, not be a long shot.  These are earth mother scones, and they’re just happy to have your hands all over them.  They’ve a magic all their own, quiet and unassuming as it is.  And beyond that, this is a really great scone base for any modifications you may want to make — blueberry lemon scones, peach scones, blackberry scones … Go ahead, take that pastry blender and scone your heart out!

Lemon Curd Ricotta Scones

  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter (cold)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 c lemon curd
  • 3/4 c ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • flour for dusting

Preheat oven to 425F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Scones are remarkably fickle and will burn if their bottoms get too hot.  Lining your baking sheet with foil will overheat them, and not lining the sheet will also be detrimental, which leaves you with parchment paper as your best friend where scones are concerned.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together.  With a pastry blender (or with a combination of knives and forks, whichever works best for you), cut the butter into the flour until the biggest chunks of butter are about the size of peas.

Add in the lemon zest and lemon curd, as well as the ricotta and heavy cream.  Mix with a flexible spatula until a dough forms.  Then, using your hands — and you may want to flour them, just a bit — knead the dough in the bottom of the bowl itself.  It’ll be a wet dough, which seems a bit odd for scones, but it’s what you want.

Gently transfer the dough from the bowl to a well-floured surface (a large cutting board will do, or a clean countertop).  Dust with flour and pat the dough into a roughly 7-inch square, about 1-inch in height.  With a knife, cut the dough into 9 even pieces (or 12 uneven ones, if you’re like me and have problems evenly dividing things).

Move the scones to your baking sheet.  Bake the scones at 425F for about 15 minutes, until golden at the edges.  Let cool completely, and serve with a pat of butter.  They’re more moist than traditional English scones, but they’re light and earthy and delightful.