In a continuing celebration of fig season - last week I posted a recipe for fig, hazelnut, orange and blue cheese salad - I share with you this deceptively easy to put together recipe for a fig, salted caramel and thyme tart.
Over the weekend, stimulated by only a little time and a lot of quatre-heures hunger, I started off by making an easy but unfailing fig and caramel tart. But just before assembling the tart, I thought, "How could I make this a touch more interesting? Not just to look at, but to taste, and to write about, all while keeping it simple?"
I looked to what we had on hand, which, as a passionate home cook, is growing in variety and abundance all the time (as much as my tiny kitchen will allow, anyway). And the solution was a classic: first, to add a bit of salt, and second, to garnish with herbs. I mixed some salt into the caramel while Rémi went down to our building's courtyard, where we have a tiny collection of herbs, including thyme, managing to survive (we can probably thank our neighbours for that).
The salt and thyme, I am certain, added an additional level of complexity that is delightful to our senses. And it was simply by looking around and posing, "What's a little thing I could do to make this more interesting, more enjoyable, more beautiful?" It's a good question to ask ourselves every time we come into the kitchen to create.
It's also a good question to ponder when we are feeling bored with our lives. Sometimes you don't need to do a huge overhaul to feel invigourated. Sometimes, all you might need is a dash of salt and a sprinkle of thyme.
Some easy ways to salt and thyme our lives:
- Walk a new route to work, or try a different bus line.
- Order something you've never tried from a menu.
- Ask the barman to serve you his favourite drink, or his dad's favourite drink.
- Read a book that's strongly marked with season: fat, Russian novels in the winter; a life-affirming memoir in the summer.
- Speaking of season: develop rituals and habits that are tied to them. Dishes that you only make in fall, for instance, or a bike ride to Massy you and your man do only in the spring. Happy nostalgia is enlivening.
- Go to a Meet Up, or another group-based activity, that lets you meet people who aren't necessarily going to be your new best friend, but are interesting to talk to, to observe, in their complete otherness to you.
- Re-arrange your home. The furniture, the drawers, the spice rack.
- Try a new craft, or an adventure sport. Do it every few months.
- Buy a magazine you've never read, on a topic you know nothing or very little about, and read it cover to cover. Ideas: architecture, middle-eastern history, quantum physics, textiles, food science. Read it in a park or café you've never visited.
- Make it a priority to invest in some dresses, hats, earrings, lipstick shades, that you don't usually wear but have always been curious about. Then embrace how different you feel walking around wearing it - awkward will shift to confidence if you give it time and humour.
- Re-assess your goals, for the short and long term. If the long term overwhelms you, forget about it and stick to clarifying, and perhaps spicing up, your short term list. And then execute it!
- Practice gratitude! I know, you've heard it all before, but seriously, when Rémi or myself feel a little dumpy, we both remind each other of every thing we can be grateful for - from home-cooked meals to living in Paris to our goofy cats - and we feel better. Rarely do we feel completely better, but I think the true solution is taking various steps that move you away from feeling zero. Hence the list.
Fig, salted caramel and thyme tart recipe
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20-25 minutes
- 6 figs, sliced .5cm thick
- 50g butter
- 50g caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 sheet of puff pastry (pâte feuilletée for those in France who get as confused as I do by the country's pastry offering)
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tsp vanilla sugar
- 3-5 fresh thyme stems and 1 tsp thyme leaves
- Small knob of butter, melted, for brushing
- Option: serve with crème fraîche or whipped cream
- Preheat oven to 180C. Cut the figs into slices that are half a centimeter (0.5 cm) thick.
Make the caramel:
- In a small saucepan, melt the better on low heat*. Once melted, add caster sugar and salt and stir continuously until the colour deepens to caramel and the mixture is smooth and unified. Set aside.
Assemble the tart:
- Roll out the sheet of pastry directly onto an oven tray (I use a perforated pizza tray) and sprinkle cinnamon powder over its surface. Using the largest of the fig slices, arrange a circle on the pastry sheet, leaving a 6cm gap between this circle of figs and the pastry's periphery.
- Pour the caramel inside the fig circle, and arrange more figs, from largest slices to smallest slices, in circles on top of the caramel until its covered. Sprinkle vanilla sugar and thyme leaves over the arranged figs.
- Fold the excess of the pastry over the top of the figs and then brush it with melted butter. Decorate the tart with thyme stems and then place it on the middle shelf of your oven for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire-stand. Serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraîche, whipped cream or as it is.
For when making the caramel*:
I specify low heat because I've made the mistake of trying to make caramel with very hot butter, which resulted in brown swamp mush swirling around in liquefied butter. For whatever food science reason, the high temperature of the butter prevented it from neatly combining with the sugar. Avoid this pitfall by melting the butter on low heat, or letting the butter's temperature reduce to a gentle heat before adding the sugar.