Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fresh Fig Tart with Walnut Shortbread Crust and Mascarpone Cream

A couple of Fridays ago we did some entertaining at our house, and then the next day we were entertained at someone else's house. On both occasions cheese, walnuts and fig jam were served. I've been fixated on baking something with...wait for it...cheese, walnuts and figs ever since.

In my mind I've been setting up a photograph of a golden tart crust filled with quartered fresh figs, over which chunks of Roquefort cheese and walnuts are scattered and honey is being drizzled. (Okay. I'm obsessed.)

So this week I set about turning my fantasy into reality, albeit with some tweaks. I incorporated the walnuts into a shortbread crust, married the crust to the figs with a mascarpone cream, and ditched the Roquefort. Although it's pictured in the photos, the Roquefort overpowers the rest of the tart. You may as well gnaw on a hunk of blue cheese, which isn't such a bad idea, but then what's the point of the tart?

I pretty much designed the recipe for this tart in my head, but because I consulted some sources for validation along the way, I've credited them below.

To simplify the endeavor or adapt it to your dietary preferences, you could use a commercial pie crust mix, dough or shell (e.g., a gluten-free and/or vegan variety). You could even do away with the crust entirely -- the mascarpone cream is that good. But do give the walnut shortbread crust a try. It's easy and delicious.

As for the filling, vegan cream cheese is probably a good substitute for the dairy, but I haven't tried it. So if you do give it a whirl, let me know how it works out!

Fresh Fig Tart with Walnut Shortbread Crust and Mascarpone Cream
Makes 6 to 8 servings

For the walnut shortbread crust (adapted from Fine Cooking):
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup toasted, finely-chopped walnuts

For the filling (adapted from Epicurious):
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons honey, plus more for serving
4 tablespoons fig jam, divided
12 to 18 fresh figs, quartered (or halved, if small)

Make the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, mascarpone cheese and vanilla. The mixture should be the consistency of maple syrup and not a paste, so thin it with a scant splash of milk if necessary. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a food processor pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Stop the processor and scatter the butter over the flour mixture. Process until the butter bits are the size of baby peas. Add the walnuts and process until the mixture is the texture of coarse cornmeal. Add the egg yolk mixture and pulse just until a dough begins to form.

3. Press dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a fluted tart pan (I used a long rectangular pan but a 9" round tart or pie pan will work nicely). Smooth and even out the dough with your hands, an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Run a rolling pin over the top of the pan to trim dough flush with rim, then prick the bottom and corner seams with a fork. Chill until firm (10 minutes in the freezer or 30 minutes in the refrigerator).

4. Bake on center oven rack until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes, then remove from oven to cool in the pan on a rack. (The crust will keep, tightly wrapped in the pan, at room temperature for up to two days while you fiddle with photography setups after work. It will also keep in the freezer for up to a month. Just be sure to thaw it at room temperature without removing the wrapping to prevent it from becoming soggy with condensation.)

Make filling and assemble tart:
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the mascarpone cheese, sour cream or yogurt, lemon zest, honey and 2 tablespoons fig jam. Remove the tart shell from the pan and evenly spread the mascarpone cream in the bottom of the shell.

2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons fig jam until syrupy. Arrange quartered figs over cream (perhaps in concentric circles if the tart shell is round) and brush with the warmed fig jam. Serve with a light drizzle of honey if desired.

Note: The crust absorbs quite a bit of moisture from the filling, so it's best to assemble the tart immediately before serving.


  1. this looks divine - somehow both fresh+fruity but also rich+buttery, i'm definitely going to try this sometime! thx for sharing, esp w. the pics.

    btw, this is my first time to your blog coming via crazyauntpurl's blog :)

    cheers, kiki.c

  2. Wow, that looks great! I've made a couple of fig tarts recently a la recipe from Giada DiLaurentis on the Food Channel. She made a filling out of marscapone, sugar, lemon zest, and other stuff - translated as "I can't remember" - spread that on a pie crust, put sliced fresh figs on top of that, leaving a border of about 2", then put a little apricot jam on top for a bit more sweet and glaze. Then you fold the crust in and kind of pleat it around the sides, leaving the center part open, and bake. Yummy and pretty easy. I substituted cream cheese because I wasn't willing to pay $5.99 for the little tub of marscapone.