SHF#10: Fig & Honey Caramel Tart with Miel du Gatinais Parfait
This month's Sugar High Friday is hosted by Nic of the delectable bakingsheet, and the theme is honey. What a theme! My first thoughts were of the extended family of spiced honey cakes - bread-like French pain d'epices, candied-fruit and nut-studded German lebkuchen, sticky English gingerbread, and all other Brothers Grimm-worthy manner of sweetmeats straight from the proverbial land of milk and honey. But seeing as Christmas is hardly round the corner, my thoughts turned to the more prosaic - what are my favourite ways of enjoying honey? Thickly dribbled over wheaten toast slathered with salted butter, it's a fabulous breakfast treat that's hard to beat. Thinly drizzled over gorgonzola served with figs and walnuts, you've assembled an elegant luncheon in no time at all. Rippled through some creme fraiche, it dresses up simple poached fruit and transforms it into a dinner party star. Honey has a natural affinity with salted butter, figs, nuts, and creme fraiche - I had my job cut out for me. I've chosen to use Miel du Gatinais, the justly famed wild flower honey of the Orleanais region that, while hauntingly and distinctively floral, is not so assertive as to lord it over the other elements. A honey with great presence, say lavender or chestnut, is perfect in certain desserts, but not appropriate for the tarts I planned to make.
Yes, tarts - I evidently haven't gotten over my tardiness at missing the last SHF#9: Tantalizing Titillating Tempting Tarts! My tarts, or rather tartlets, are based on a recipe from Christine Ferber's lovely Mes Tartes, a book brimming with unusual but utterly delicious ideas for the countless wonders you can create simply by filling a pastry case. But hers is no ordinary pastry - enriched with ground almonds and praline, it's a scrumptiously buttery dough that's good enough to be eaten like a cookie on its own. The tart is filled with an aromatic almond cream, into which I've folded some luscious creme fraiche d'Isigny and honey. Once baked, the tart is smothered with a creamy honey caramel sauce, from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking. In addition to heavy cream, she stirs honey and creme fraiche into the caramelised sugar. With its subtly cultured tang, creme fraiche brings beautiful balance to the sauce. And of course, a soupcon of salt is never out of place in caramel. But instead of mere salt, I whisked in a goodly lump of salted butter right at the end when the sauce is just taken off heat - beurre de baratte from Nantais luxuriously salted with sel de mer de Guerande, a decadent butter made by the traditional churn method with a sumptuous caramelised flavour. Finally, the fresh figs which top the tart. The fruit is poached the day before in a wine syrup, which I made by heating together a bottle's worth of Brown Brothers' Late Harvested Orange Muscat & Flora (I used a 2003 vintage), honey, and lemon juice. And to accentuate the phantom citrus dimension, a few drops of orange blossom water - Orange Muscat has nothing whatsoever to actually do with oranges, it just happens to be a varietal that smells like a simmering copper pan of the most divine homemade marmalade, with a zesty citrus zip on the lovely finish. The figs are left to cool and sit in their honeyed bath overnight, emerging the next morning perfumed and plump, their Scheherazade-sque scent and succulence considerably heightened by the leisurely soak. To finish, slivers of candied orange peel - I've used my precious stash of Sicilian scorzetta d'arancia candita. I think had my only recourse been the putrid neon stubs that so often masquerade as orange peel, I would have used a sprinkle of pulverised almond brittle instead.
If the tart is a tout ensemble in which the Miel du Gatinais is but one of several supporting - which is not to say dispensable - players, it gains prima donna-like ascendancy in the whisper-light parfait, adapted from a recipe in Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir's Frozen Desserts book. The enigmatic wild flower flavour is underscored by a dash of dark rum and a trickle of orange blossom water, rounded out by softly whipped cream and more creme fraiche. In retrospect, orange blossom honey would have worked wonderfully here - looking through my books today, I've just spied a wonderful sounding recipe for Frozen Orange-Blossom Honey Mousse in Claudia Fleming's The Last Course. Now, to hunt down a good jar of orange blossom honey and try the recipe...