Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.
~ Stanley Horowitz
Where I reside now, there are no seasons and only two types of weather - sunny and often thunderstorm-like rain. But I do remember autumns spent in Europe and North America when I studied and worked there. Cardigan-weather, we used to call it. It must've been my favorite season out of the four, with the bearable coolness in the air and the messy, leaf-kicking path to school, Uni., office, etc.
I know I looked forward to the heartier autumnal dishes and heartwarming desserts although I can't in all honesty recall what I ate as a student. So let's fast forward to the period when I could afford to eat the good stuff - my working days! Living in Europe at the time, my kitchen was constantly filled with figs, plums, pomegranates, etc. freshly bought from the farmer's market. Out of everything else, I miss the fresh purple figs the most... I could eat baskets of them - and probably did!
Don't these scream "AUTUMN" to you?
It was around that time also that I'd learnt to bake properly, trying to decipher recipes from books published in another language (well, I mean other than English, which is another language for me too). The first results were disastrous but I guess I got better with practice. It seemed that the more stressful my job got, the more I baked, sometimes even during the wee hours of the morning when I couldn't sleep. It was certainly cheaper than having therapy, but unfortunately my waistline paid dearly for it. Hey, I was still trying to build a career then...so something had to give.
Anyway, those figs are what stuck with me most about autumn. The first time I ever made a tart with them and brought the dessert over to a friend's dinner party, it received so many oohs and ahhs that I became known as "that yummy fig tart lady" thereon after. Yummy for the fig tart, of course, although I'd forgive you if you thought it was 'yummy' for the lady who made it too :-).
So why all this waxing lyrical about autumn when I now live in a tropical rainforest climate? Well, Kate over at What Kate Baked is running an Autumnal Baking Challenge until 21st October, 2011 and I'm participating in it. There's also a giveaway tied to the challenge but that's not why I'm linking this post. I simply want to re-live those memories of fall and my 15 minutes of fame with that first yummy fig tart.
Alas, there are no fresh figs to be found over here although I had no qualms about reconstituting the dried ones that we do have plenty of. Beggars can't be choosers, and since we have no autumn to speak of, we are technically (sigh) beggars. Fresh pomegranates are everywhere now, so I incorporated the arils into some custard flavored with a dash of rosewater. That simple act gave the tart an extra dimension of interest - flavor, color and texture-wise.
You didn't think I just stopped there, did you? Well, if the tart filling was going to be beautiful, I figured the tart crust would have to be as equally interesting, so what I did was to create chocolate stripes along the edges of the crust. On the base of the crust, I gently pressed chopped pistachio nuts before baking and pouring the filling in. If you were to take a bite out of this tart, you would just about be able to sense the presence of the chocolate and pistachios, very subtle notes amongst the melee of other flavors. Ahh...I have complex tastebuds, can you not already tell?
Pomegranate, Fig and Pistachio Tart in a Chocolate Stripe Crust
Makes one 8-inch shallow tart
Chocolate Stripe Crust:
125g all-purpose flour
63g cold butter, chopped into cubes
1/2 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
(Note: You can make double the above amount for two 8-inch tarts, or freeze the rest of the dough for future use)
1 scant tablespoon sugar
100ml coconut cream (or double cream)
1/2 teaspoon rosewater
100g sliced figs (fresh or reconstituted dried ones)
100g pomegranate arils
20g shelled pistachio nuts, roasted and chopped
1. To make the crust: Place flour, butter and sugar in a bowl and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add beaten egg and knead with your hands quickly until it becomes a moist (but not sticky) ball of dough.
2. To make the chocolate stripes: Scoop out a tablespoonful of the above dough and add the cocoa powder. Knead the cocoa into the dough on a clean surface until fully incorporated. Roll cocoa dough into thin ropes using your palms, arrange strips of this upright along the ridges of the tart pan (see photo above). Flatten the strips lightly against the edge.
3. Press the plain dough into the base and sides of the tart pan. Cut off excess dough at the top with a sharp knife. Prick the base of the dough all over with a fork and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Take a tablespoon of the chopped pistachio nuts and sprinkle on the base of the tart crust. Press the nuts gently into the dough. Line the top of the crust with parchment paper and place rice or beans on top. Bake blind for 15 minutes.
5. In the meantime, make the filling. Mix the egg, sugar, rosewater and coconut cream in a small bowl until well-blended, then stir in half the pomegranate arils.
6. Take the tart pan out of the oven, remove the parchment paper and baking beans. Pour in the pomegranate coconut custard into the crust and arrange sliced figs at the edges. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the custard just sets on top. Leave to cool completely. Top with the rest of the pomegranates and pistachios before serving. Best eaten on day of baking.