The significance of a fig tree is profoundly indispensable in every culture. There is a fig tree in every religious mythology. There also used to be a fig tree in my childhood.
On a patch of land right next to ours grew a fig tree with short stubby bark and large velvety leaves. As a child, I often watched it from my mother’s bedroom window, especially during summer when the bark of the tree would be dotted with tiny figs the colour of peridots. Fig trees arose from fairytales: my childhood fairytale books lead me to believe that mythical characters lived in fig trees. But most importantly there was a saying in Bengali that flowers of a fig tree possessed magical powers and anyone who could see them would be the wisest of all men. I actually wanted to become a princess – but being wise would be pretty cool too, I figured. I tried long and hard but never saw those magical fig flowers. All I ever saw were what I thought was the fruit of the fig tree. The day I learned that the flowers of the fig tree are the fruit itself, I was too old to cry.
As I gazed upon the cluster of figs from the window I longed to eat them. I loved eating figs cooked by my mother. In Bengali cuisine figs are often just fried with “panch phoron” (Bengali five spice) or are added into vegetable curries. My favourite had been figs in Bengali fish stew. The tiny green figs about the size of a marble would be halved, fried, and simmered with other vegetables and fish to make “macher jhol” (fish stew), a staple during the summer months. My father had always fished out the figs from the bottom of the stew and put them on my plate – a special treat.
Since I left home, my father has planted a fig tree in his backyard so we never run out of figs when I visit. But those figs are of a different kind – they don’t grow beyond the size of a marble and are not meant to be eaten ripe. The ripe figs that we find here are of a separate genus. I had never seen nor had fresh ripe purple figs before I came to Canada.
Dried sweet figs on the other hand were not that uncommon. North Indian confectionaries use dried figs in their recipes. A special milk fudge with a layer of pulpy sweet dried figs was one of my favourites during Diwali. Other than the occasional treat, figs to me remained in the savoury section of the food list.
Ripe figs are delicate fruit and spoil very easily, almost instantaneously. When bought by the crateful they almost need to be devoured instantaneously as well. When cooked with fresh figs they also need to be eaten right away because if not, they almost seem to lose their delicate sweetness and floral taste. This year we had figs with ricotta and fresh black pepper; fig, feta and rosemary focaccia; and a lovely tart that sounded like a fairytale: fig rosemary frangipani tart.
To me the word ‘frangipani’ sounds almost as beautiful as it tastes. It also reminds me of the blooming frangipane tree that reliably sheds its flowers in the dark of the night, transforming the land into a fairytale with its sweet intoxicating fragrance and majestic beauty. This tart is a fairytale to me.
Fig Rosemary Frangipane Tart
- Flour: 1 1/2cups
- Sugar: 1/4 cup
- Salt: 1/8 tsp
- Unsalted Butter: 1/2 cup
- Ice Cold Water: 3-4 Tbsp
- Almond Meal: 1/2 cup
- Flour: 1 Tbsp
- Sugar: 1/4 cup
- Unsalted Butter: 3 Tbsp
- Egg: 1
- Fresh Rosemary: 1/4 tsp very finely chopped
- Fig: 10-12 Cut in half
- Honey: 2 Tbsp
- Powdered Sugar: 1-2 tsp for dusting
- Cube the butter and leave it in the freezer for 10-15 mins.
- In a food processor add flour, sugar and salt and blitz once or twice to combine.
- Add the butter to the flour and blitz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Add the ice cold water and mix quickly till the dough barely comes together.
- Take out of processor and make into a ball tightly pressing together.
- Wrap with cling film and refrigerate for 1/2 hour.
- When ready to make tart, roll out dough between two layers of cling film and lay over tart pan with removable bottom.
- Prick the base and sides with fork and bake for 15 mins at 375F.
- When ready take out of oven and turn down heat to 350F.
- In a food processor add the butter, sugar and mix till fluffy.
- Add the egg and rosemary and mix again.
- Finally add the alone meal and flour and mix till batter feels smooth.
- Set aside.
- Fill the tart shell with the frangipane and carefully arrange the halved figs on top.
- Bake at 350F for 50-55 mins or till the frangipane turns brown on top.
- Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
- Chantilly cream is an excellent addition to the tart.