Figs first arrived in California by way of the Mediterranean, cultivated by Franciscan missionaries along the Camino Real (“Royal Road”, in Spanish), a 600-mile thoroughfare that linked the missions, pueblos and presidios. These days, El Camino Real bears more Silicon Valley traffic than fruit, but a popular variety of fig called the Black Mission holds in its name some of its history.
Down the hall in mythology class, the fragile, curvy fruit recurs as a powerful motif. Figs are associated with Dionysus, the god of wine and original good-time Charlie, as well as the randy satyr Priapus; Adam and Eve covered their blushing nakedness with fig leaves. The she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus, those brother begetters of Rome, rested in the shade of a fig tree, and the Buddha attained his enlightenment beneath the bodhi, a type of fig tree held sacred in many faiths.
And why all this fuss, throughout literature and history? Well, figs are tasty. No more so when baked into a lovely, not-too-sweet tart, served with a nip of vin santo and a dollop of freshly whipped cream. A bit reserved for Dionysus, perhaps, but I think he’d still be pleased.
Fresh Fig Tart
adapted from Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano, 2007
- one batch of store-bought pie dough or homemade pasta frolla
- 1/4 C (2 oz) butter, room temperature
- 1/4 C powdered sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1/4 C sliced almonds, toasted and finely ground
- 12-15 medium fresh Black Mission or Turkish figs
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 C granulated sugar
Roll cool-but-pliable tart dough into an 11″ circle, about 1/8″ thick. Transfer to a fluted tart pan, lightly pressing into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim flush with the top of the pan by rolling your pin over the top edge. Chill while prepping the filling.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and move the rack to the center position.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed, cream the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add the yolk and honey and blend. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the almonds and blend. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the tart shell. Place back in the fridge.
Trim the stems from the figs and quarter lengthwise. Add to a large bowl; sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice and gently toss to combine. Arrange the figs, flesh side up, in a circular pattern in the tart shell. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the figs are jammy and the tart shell is turning golden brown. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature with lightly whipped cream or mascarpone.