the department of weights & measures

fig & almond tart

Weights and measures, not exactly the sexy part of life in the kitchen. And not something I have tended to spend my idle hours mulling over. That was until a recent calamity that took place in my tiny kitchen. A calamity that has had my thoughts increasingly turning toward measures in general and weight in particular. Yes, my friends, my kitchen scales have died.

The scales in question would have to be up there as one of my favourite kitchen toys. A Christmas gift from my beautiful mum, they, along with my favourite Global knife, have followed me from kitchen to kitchen. California to the Barossa, Mudgee to Sydney, my scales have always been at the ready.

For the last week or so, I have been cooking blind, scaleless. And while there haven’t been any disasters to speak of, I have been amazed at how reliant I’ve become on my little electronic balance.

Now when it comes to recipes, I’m definitely not a slave – not someone who religiously follows absolutely every detail. But neither am I one of those cooks who NEVER uses a recipe. I love recipes, but rather than thinking of them as an instruction of how things must be done, I prefer to see them as a record of how the author made the dish in question. An idea to be taken and tweaked and adjusted to suit my mood, the preferences of my guests, and most often what needs using up in the fridge.

As a cook who is between scales, as it were, I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the tendency in modern recipe writing to just list ingredients by their required weight. It’s not that I’m concerned about getting everything exactly precise, far from it. But I find that there are things that I have had absolutely no idea how much the recipe is suggesting. 200g of mushrooms anyone? or 400g arborio rice?

I’ve always been a fan of Jamie Oliver’s handful of this or a glug of that. At least then you have a ballpark idea as to what he is suggesting. But even Jamie says that when it comes to baking that you need to be precise. So I’ve put together a list of ingredients and their cup measurements. Something to have on hand the next time I find myself without a set of scales. To check it out just click on the weights & measures section on the top left hand side of your screen.

Apart from scale malfunction or flat batteries, there are always occasions like guest cheffing at a friends house or holidaying in the Northern Territory, when it’s not so easy to BYO balance. Now hopefully with my new list and plan to include both weight and cup measures in my future recipes, I’ll never be stuck again  and more hopefully, dear reader, neither will you…..all good things….

fig & almond tart
serves 8-10
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s crostata di fichi in Jamie’s Italy.

This is a lovely versatile tart that is not too sweet and works as a great do ahead dessert. It can be used to showcase whatever seasonal fruit is at it’s best.

While figs are one of my all time favourites, I’ve also had success with thickly sliced peaches. Apricots or plums would work a treat as would sliced pears or berries. Feel free to swap the honey for some jam that matches your chosen fruit. I’ve also been meaning to try poached quinces with a drizzle of their cooking liquid and at some stage an experiment with fresh dates or even prunes is on the cards. The possibilities are endless, really and that’s before we even start to think about the non-almond nut options.

Jamie’s sweet pastry has been my favourite for ages. It stays nice and crispy and even reheats well the next day if you happen to have any leftovers. He flavours his crust with lemon zest and vanilla but I prefer it straight up.

for the pastry:
125g unsalted butter
100g (2/3C) icing or powdered sugar
pinch salt
250g (1 2/3C) plain flour
2 egg yolks
2T (30mL) milk
for the filling:
300g (3 1/3C) sliced almonds
50g (1/3C) plain flour
220g (1C) castor sugar
200g unsalted butter, diced
2 eggs
1T brandy
250g fresh figs**, approx 7 small, halved lengthwise
2T honey
60g (1/3C) sliced almonds, extra
marscarpone or vanilla icecream, to serve

For the pastry, process butter, icing sugar and salt in a food processor until well combined. Add flour and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add eggs and milk and pulse again approx 5 times. The mixture will still look crumbly but don’t worry it will come together as it rests. Trust me, a gentle hand at this stage makes for a lighter crispier tart crust down the track.

Transfer crumbly mix to a large sheet of cling wrap, cover and pat into a thick disc shape. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Lightly flour a piece of greaseproof or baking paper and place disc on top and cover with another sheet of paper. Roll out pastry between the layers to a circle large enough to line a 28cm tart tin with a removable base. Remove top layer of paper and use the bottom layer to help transfer the pastry to the tin. Remove bottom layer and pat the pastry to fit the tin. Patch any holes and trim the edges. Prick the base with a fork and allow to rest in the freezer for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 180C. For the filling, whizz almonds in a food processor until very finely ground. The texture of your filling is dependant on how fine the almonds are. Transfer almonds to a bowl and stir through the flour. Cream butter and sugar in the food processor until light and fluffy. Transfer butter mixture to the almonds along with the eggs and brandy and mix until just combined. Refrigerate for at least 30mins.

Bake tart shell straight from the freezer for 20-25mins or until lightly golden. Smear almond filling over the base of the tart and top with fig halves, cut side up, pushing the figs into the filling. Sprinkle the remaining flaked almonds over the top of the tart trying to avoid the figs. Drizzle honey over the figs. Return to the oven for approx 30mins or until the tart is golden brown. Allow to cool for at least 30mins before serving with a generous dollup of marscarpone or icecream.

**Note. Feel free to increase the number of figs, I would have gone for more but unfortunately this late in the season they were fiendishly expensive and the budget wouldn’t stretch to the 15 figs recommended by Mr Oliver.

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