If I am lucky enough to get my hands on a platter of figs (hurry to the market in the place d’Aligre, there may still be time!) I am reluctant to hide them in a cake. Rather a tub of a ricotta and a spoonful of honey to make me happy.
In the south of France recently, our tree only had a handful of the tiniest purple ones. I ran around the block looking for figs and considering all the possbilities for an interesting recipe. Since last year when an angry farmer confiscated my brother’s pickings and threw them under his tractor, then cut down the tree out of spite, there are no more figs to be had!
But I had an idea, inspired by Pierre Herme: a millefeuille de pain d’épice – or a stack of spice bread – interleaved with a light gingery pastry cream and some just-baked figs. A few drops of olive oil and honey, a few grains of sea-salt and five minutes in the oven only enhanced the sweetness and collapsible nature of our figs. The pain d’épice is sliced thinly and toasted to a crisp with a little butter, providing a good crunch to add to the soft figs and subtle cream.
Make it as rustic or elegant as you like: pipe neat droplets of ginger cream onto perfect squares of pain d’épice, sandwich with figs and adorn with a strip of crystallized ginger. Or serve family style: a gorgeous dish of just roasted figs, a dish of pastry cream and a pile of spice bread to pass around. Create deliciously messy tartines, jammy figs squashed onto crunchy gingerbread: a worthy vehicle for those fresh figs (and an excellent way to liven up any sad supermarket specimens).
Fig and ginger millefeuille
4 giant or 8 small figs
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
pinch sea salt
1 loaf pain d’epice (or gingerbread), slightly stale
for the pastry cream:
45g light brown sugar
2 tbsp finely chopped crystallised ginger
3 egg yolks
30g light brown sugar
15g (1 tbsp) flour
30g (2tbsp) corn flour / maizena
100g crème fraîche
to serve: 2 figs + strips of crystallised ginger
Heat the oven to 180C . Halve the figs and place in small baking dish, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and honey and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 5-10 minutes until soft without losing shape. At the same time, heat a large baking tray with the butter on it. As the butter melts, slice the pain d’épice as thin as you can. (It helps if it is a little stale.) Aim for 12 slices roughly the size of a playing card. Remove tray from oven, tilt to distribute melted butter evenly. Rub the pain d’épice in the butter on one side, then turn over. Toast in oven until crisp – but be careful not to burn.
Make the pastry cream: heat the milk, the 45g sugar and the ginger until it boils. Whisk the egg yolks and the 30g sugar to combine, then sieve in the flour and cornflour. Pour half of the boiling milk into the egg mixture and whisk thoroughly to temper it (stop the eggs from cooking too quickly) then tip it all back into the pan. Gently bring the custard back to a boil and whisk until thick (about 3 minutes). Pour out onto a clingfilm-lined tray, cover with more clingfilm and refrigerate. This way it should cool down quickly.
Just before you are ready to eat, beat the pastry cream to remove any lumps and fold in the crème fraîche. Do not overmix or it will be too runny. On each plate, layer a pain d’épice toast with a dollop of cream, half a baked fig and repeat. Finish with a third slice and decorate with a sliver of crystallised ginger and a slice of fresh fig.
Alternatively, serve up the figs on a platter with bowls of ginger cream and pain d’epice for everyone to help themselves. Eat immediately.