This recipe was inspired by one that started with a pistachio crust. However, I didn’t have pistachios but did have hazelnuts in the freezer. And this time, as luck would have it, the hazelnuts were already blanched. All of a sudden this tart became reminiscent of a Linzer Torte.
When I tasted the fig filling, as it was cooking, it seemed a little too sweet even for my taste. I thought, what could I add that would cut some of the sweetness? Then I remembered moving a bag of dried sour cherries when I was hunting for the hazelnuts.
Adding about a half a cup of the cherries to the filling, as it was cooking, did the trick. The tartness of the cherries balanced the sweetness of the figs. With or without a dollop of vanilla bean crème fraîche, this is a perfect dessert to end an autumn dinner.
2 cups (10 oz) blanched hazelnut flour*
2 tablespoons (1 oz) granulated sugar
2 cups (9 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 oz) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup (4 oz) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 lemon, preferably organic, finely zested without pith
16 tablespoons (8 ounces) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup vanilla bean crème fraîche*, optional
1 pound dried Black Mission figs, stemmed
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (2 oz) dried sour cherries
FOR THE DOUGH: In a food processor using the metal “S” blade, pulse hazelnuts with granulated sugar just until finely ground. (Be careful not to process for too long otherwise you will end up with sweetened hazelnut butter.) Add the flours, powdered sugar, baking powder and lemon zest and pulse to combine.
Scatter the butter on top of the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture is the size of peas. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, beat the whole egg, egg yolks and vanilla. Pour of the flour mixture around the insider parameter of the bowl and pulse until almost combined.
Pour out onto a smooth counter-top and with the heal of your hand, smear the dough away from you and fold it back over on top of itself with a bench knife. Continue until the dough comes together.
Separate the dough into two disks, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap both pieces in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least two hours or preferably overnight.
FOR THE FILLING: In a medium saucepan, combine the figs with the water, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, lemon juice and zest and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Simmer the figs over moderately low heat for about 20 minutes. Add the cherries and continue cooking until the figs and cherries are tender and the liquid has reduced and become syrupy; about another 20 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and again using the metal “S” blade pulse until the fruit has become evenly small pieces. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray an 11-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with vegetable oil cooking spray. Press the larger disk of dough into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan to form an even 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick crust. Trim off any excess. Spread the fig filling over the crust. Roll out the smaller disk between 2 sheets of parchment paper to a 11 1/2-inch round about 1/4 inch thick. Remove 1 sheet of the parchment paper and invert the top crust over the filling. Press the edges together to seal and trim off any excess. Using a end of a small knife add a few steam vents to the top crust. Chill the tart for 15 minutes.
Bake the tart in the center of the oven for 50 minutes, or until golden, covering the top with foil if the edge becomes too brown. Let the tart cool for 30 minutes, then carefully remove the fluted ring. Let the tart cool completely before serving.
*To make the vanilla bean crème fraîche, add about 1 tablespoon (or to taste) of vanilla sugar to a cup of crème fraîche. Stir to combine and then refrigerate until firm. Add a dollop just before serving — plain crème fraîche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream would be delicious too!
The tart can kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
*MAKING HAZELNUT FLOUR: It is possible to find blanched hazelnut flour, but if you can’t you can make it yourself. For many years I followed the conventional wisdom of roasting the nuts, allowing them to cool and then rubbing them in a lint-free towel. I generally used a brown towel as that would be that color anyway after I was through.
Then, while assisting at a cooking class the chef blanched the nuts in boiling water to which baking soda was added. That day conventional wisdom was thrown out the winder and I have been boiling hazelnuts ever since That is, if I can’t find them already blanched.
4 cups water
10 ounces skin-on hazelnuts
4 tablespoons baking soda
Preheat oven to 350°F. Have ready a half sheet baking pan or similar pan and a large colander placed in the sink.
In a large saucepan, bring water to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling add the baking soda and quickly add the hazelnuts. Note that the water will bubble up profusely.
Cook the hazelnuts for 3 to 4 minutes. Check at 3 1/2 minutes to see if the nuts can be de-skinned. Do this by removing one with a slotted spoon, run it under cold water and try slipping off the skin using two fingers. If it doesn’t easily come off, boil the remaining for another 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Once the skin easily slips off remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the nuts in the colander. Rinse nuts well under cold running water then slip off the skins using your fingers. After the skins are removed, dry completely with a kitchen towel or paper towels and transfer to a baking sheet.
Toast blanched hazelnuts in preheated oven, stirring often, until light golden brown and fragrant, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to another pan to stop the cooking and cool before using.