Saturday, December 5, 2015

Honey Fig & Apricot Frangipane Tarts (The NEW Fruitcake)

We all know the story about fruitcake. Nobody likes it except for grandma and nobody makes it from scratch anymore because if nobody wants to eat it then why go to all the trouble?

But dried fruits are one of the delights of winter baking and why not give them another chance at delicious with something other than a heavy wet cake? I vote tarts, and since it's my blog, I win!

When it comes to dried fruit, apricots have got to be my favourite. Then follows figs, cherries and I am one of those weirdos who loves prunes. Gotta stay regular.

Apricots are sweet and tart. They have great texture and are so versatile. I put them in cookies, granola bars, breads, muffins and cakes. They match very well with anything chocolate. In this recipe I've paired them with figs and frangipane not just because I like the letter "F" but because it tastes great.

Frangipane is an easy and universally appealling filling made from mostly almonds and butter. It is best described as an almond cream and can range from super soft to slightly firm and chewy depending on the ingredient proportions. More sugar and butter means softer and creamier, although it can be on the greasy side. More almond and even a pinch of flour means a firmer set with more of a bite. I prefer the latter. You can pair frangipane with almost any fruit - pear, apple, peach, plum, cherries, chocolate, cranberries... Yes, chocolate is a fruit. Well, it was before it became chocolate. It's complicated.

Time to brush up on your pastry skills. Remember cold bits of butter, not too much liquid and no kneading. Just fold and press until it holds together. Resting time is crucial so the flour has time to hydrate making your life easier when it comes to rolling. A non-rested dough will crack and the butter will be too soft that it will stick to your rolling pin and the counter top. Not pretty.

There are two fillings to prepare. First we start with the fruit bit. Chopped apricots and figs get simmered in water with a touch of sugar and spice until they are plump and slightly jammy. This needs to cool completely.

On with the almond topping. Frangipane recipes look like unfinished cookie recipes. The method and ingredient proportions are similar, but then it's like someone ran out of flour. Cream soft butter with sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in an egg, some salt and then almond meal until you get a smooth thick cream. A bit of honey keeps the filling moist but also... honey almonds? Yes, please.

When it comes to little tarts like these you must pre-bake the pastry shells. If not, then the filling will burn before the bottom pastry has time to crisp up. Most of the time you end up with soggy bottoms because it's the better option to having burnt tarts. Pre-baking helps to solve this issue, especially when frangipane requires a gentle baking temperature similar to custard.

Another key - chill the fitted pastry before baking. This goes for big and small tarts. It lets the dough relax and the fat firms up so that it shrinks less when it bakes. It also guarantees more flakiness.

If it can't be chocolate, let it be fruit but not cake. Fruit tarts is it!

Honey Fig & Apricot Frangipane Tart
Makes about 15 tarts

For the pastry:
1 2/3 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp (25g) sugar
½ tsp salt
8 ½ tbsp (125g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
½ tsp water

For the fig & apricot compote:
80g dried figs, chopped
80g dried apricots, chopped
1 cup water
2 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice

For the almond cream:
¼ cup (56g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (50g) sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp honey
few drops of pure almond extract
¾ cup (75g) ground almonds
1 tbsp flour
¼ tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

To make pastry, combine flour, sugar and salt in mixer bowl. Add cubed cold butter and mix on low until butter is broken down and mixture resembles crumbs. Whisk egg well with water in a small bowl and gradually add to bowl while mixing and stop just as soon as it comes together but does not form a ball. You may not need all of the egg mixture. Divide dough in half and wrap each individually in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Roll the pastry out to jusg over 1/8-inch thickness and cut out 3-inch rounds using a cookie cutter. Fit each round into the wells of a 12-cup muffin pan or use miniature tart pans if you have them. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. When ready to bake, prick the bottoms of pastry with a fork and bake at 200°C for 12-15 minutes, or until bottoms begin to turn golden. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Use a butterknife to help loosen pastry shells if you are using a muffin pan to ensure that they do not stick and then let cool completely.

To make compote, combine chopped fruit, water, sugar and cinnamon in a small saucepan and simmer, covered, until jammy. This will take about 15 minutes. Top up the water as necessary until the fruit is soft and then mash it up a bit with a wooden spoon. Stir in lemon juice and let cool completely.

To make the almond filling, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Whisk in the egg vigorously until smooth. Stir in honey, almond extract, ground almonds, flour, cinnamon and salt. The mixture will have a dropping consistency.

Spoon about 2 teaspoons of fruit compote into the base of the tarts and then spread about 1 tablespoon of almond filling evenly over top. For a different design you can spoon the almond filling into the base and then dollop some compote into the center. Place tray back into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until almond filling is golden.
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