Fresh Fig Custard Tart with Fig Leaf Ice Cream

I find a strawberry, sliced lengthwise, to be much more suggestive than the fresh fig about which folks often waggle their eyebrows. But suggestive or no, fresh figs are pretty much my favorite fruit in the world, and I am blessed to have incredibly generous friends as Michael and Sara DeWeil with an extremely prolific fig tree in their backyard.
I adapted this tart from a recipe in Deborah Madison’s gorgeous book Local Flavors. I picked up my copy five years ago at the Bay Tree Bookstore at UCSC, and it has become my all around favorite cookbook for its beautiful photography, heartwarming prose, and kickass recipes, both sweet and savory. I love this book equally to read in the bath or before bed, or to take on a road trip, or to get inspiration for a weeknight’s dinner.
Anyway, I changed up this recipe a bit because of the egg yolks. Being the custard freak that I am, I always seem to end up with jars and jars of egg whites in the fridge, which becomes a worse offense when they are the gorgeous whites of the happy chickens from Eatwell Farm. If I were to make meringues from all those whites, I would have enough to fill a house. And I hate meringues. So I altered this tart recipe so that instead of using two yolks in the crust and one in the custard, I just used half an egg in each. I also used honey in the custard instead of sugar, and added a sprinkling of coarse sugar on top which caramelized in the heat of the oven.
Now how ’bout this fig leaf ice cream? It certainly sounds bizarre. I got the idea from Kate Zuckerman’s book, The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle, and didn’t have much faith as I made the custard base. (Yes, I know, four more egg whites sittin’ in the fridge, but philly-style ice creams and cornstarch-based gelati just aren’t the same, I’m sorry.) But when I tasted the churned ice cream, it hit me: the distinctive flavor of figs, without the seeds and slimy texture. Incredible. So if you’ve got a fig tree, or a friend with one, give this ice cream a try to serve with any fig dessert, or just serve with plain old fresh figs, if they’re not too suggestive for you.
Fresh Fig Custard Tart with Fig Leaf Ice Cream
Fig Leaf Ice Cream:
Makes about 1 scant quart
3 medium (5-6″ long) fig leaves, snipped into 1″ pieces
3/4 cup whole milk
4-5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Scald the milk with the leaves in a medium saucepan. Cover and let steep 20 minutes. Have the cream in a bowl or large container with a fine-mesh sieve set over it. Whisk together the yolks, sugar and salt in a medium bowl to combine. Re-scald the milk, and temper into the yolk mixture. Return the mixture to the pan and cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until it thickens slightly and just begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, 170º. Immediately pour through the sieve and into the cream. Place in the fridge until thoroughly chilled, at least 4 hours, or up to two days. Churn in an ice cream maker.
Pate Sucrée:
Makes one 8″ tart crust
3 oz. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (2 oz.) powdered sugar
1/2 egg (1 oz., or 2 T)
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and sift in the powdered sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add the egg slowly, beating to combine, then the salt and flour, mixing on low until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle, and make sure the dough is homogenous. Scrape out onto a lightly floured surface and gently roll out into an even 10″ round. (If the dough is too soft and sticky to work with, refrigerate until firm.) Fit into an 8″ round tart pan with a removable bottom, make the edges pretty. You should know how to do that by now. Chill until firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375º and position a rack on the lowest position. Line the chilled dough with parchment paper and pie weights, place the tart pan on a baking sheet, and bake until the bottom looks dry when you lift up the parchment, about 15 minutes. Remove the weights, and bake until the bottom is slightly browned, 5 or 10 minutes more. Remove while you prepare the filling. Patch any holes with leftover dough scraps.
Figs and Custard:
1 lb. figs, about 12-15 medium figs (any one variety or a mix)
1/2 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream
1/2 egg (about 1 oz. or 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons honey
pinch salt
Other possible flavorings: splash of rosewater, orange flower water, vanilla extract, or a dash of cardamom or cinnamon, or a grating of lemon or orange zest
2 tablespoons coarse sugar, for sprinkling over the top
Quarter larger figs, or halve smaller ones. Lay figs in the tart shell in concentric circles. Whisk together the remaining filling ingredients and pour around, not over, the figs. Sprinkle the sugar over the top. Return to the oven, and bake until the juices from the figs are bubbling thickly and the custard is puffed and golden in places. The baking time will vary depending on how juicy your figs are – mine took around 45 minutes, but check it after 20 minutes. Let cool slightly. This tart is best served warm, with a quenelle of ice cream alongside, or a drizzle of creme fraiche.

10 thoughts on “Fresh Fig Custard Tart with Fig Leaf Ice Cream”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this fig leaf ice cream since I stumbled across the recipe last year, and I finally have the opportunity to try it. The fig leaves curdled the milk when I tried to scald it, though! Do you have any suggestions to solve this problem?

    1. Oh no! This used to happen when I worked at Quince and we would make brown sugar ice cream – the brown sugar would curdle the hot milk. We would just keep going with the recipe, and it would smooth out when the eggs were added, so maybe it would work here? Please let me know what you end up trying!

      1. You were right, the steeped milk smoothed out when I added the eggs. I just churned my batch up and it’s beautiful. This ice cream tastes exactly the way a sun-warmed fig tree smells. Perfection! Thanks for the recipe and the help!

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