Friday, July 15, 2005

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...


Blogger Sam said...

oh yum.
great picture.
It's like a still life.
Now I am assuming you don't have an ant problem like we do in san francisco. Otherwise you would never spill the honey on purpose like that - not even for art's sake!!

3:25 am, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi sam, with two greedy little dachshunds means that ants don't stand a fighting chance of getting at spills and scraps (whether for art's sake or not...) before they do

3:48 am, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

Wow. That is a gorgeous photo of a gorgeous tart, J. I wish I could be there to taste it, but it's a great entry for this month's SHF. Thanks for participating!

4:20 am, July 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great entry and the photo is mouthwatering! Just discovered your site and I'm glad I did!


6:18 am, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Lori said...

I discovered your blog because of the comment you left on my site. Thanks so much!

Your SHF entry looks too good, and the photography outstanding. I'm glad we discovered each other's blogs. :)


9:41 am, July 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a mess (although the cake itself is nice) ! Why waste ingredients just for the purpose of a blog-picture...?

5:42 pm, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi nic, thanks...can't wait to see the round-up...thanks for hosting!

hi jeanne, thanks. me too; your blog rocks!

hi a.g., thanks for your kind the picture of those biscuits you baked too...

hi lori, thanks for dropping by! the feeling is mutual :)

hi petro, a minimalist i am not ;) sorry to have outraged your sense of thrift. as everything in the mere blog picture was actually mise-en-place - with the exception of spilled honey, which my dogs were very happy to lick up - it didn't occur to me i was being wasteful. cheers,j

7:40 pm, July 15, 2005  
Blogger eat stuff said...

What a gorgeous spread! and the photo! If I had some orange blossom honey it would be in the post already!

9:46 pm, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi, thanks for coming by my site, because in so doing I have now discovered yours! A truly impressive creation. I love the photo, it all looks so delicious. And the honey mousse recipe you recently discovered sounds equally tempting. Looking forward to browsing through your previous posts!

10:22 pm, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

What a wonderful site and a fabulous journey through the land of many honeys. I can't wait to get some Brown Brothers Harvested Honey Muscat & Flora.

Reading made my mouth water.

Your blog will definitely be added to my faves.

10:33 pm, July 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J...just spectacular! I may have to limit my visits to your site, or else learn how to control my feelings of total inadequacy!...But seriously, all of us who are making pictures of food can learn something from you -- every post is a little lesson in beauty...and by the way, thanks for stopping by my site and saying nice things...not sure I'm worthy but definitely honored...I guess honey and figs are pretty well covered this month!

10:51 pm, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

hi J, you continually raise the benchmark for food porn, oops, gotta wipe the drool off the keyboard!!! :)

12:08 am, July 16, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another vote for gorgeous! Looks like a lot of us make the honey and fig connection, too!

9:25 am, July 16, 2005  
Blogger boo_licious said...

Woweee, the pix and the other postings look great as always. Your pixs are a real inspiration to me.

Hmm, this Claudia Fleming's frozen honey mousse sounds good, I must go to Borders/Kino to try and look for her book.

10:29 pm, July 16, 2005  
Blogger Ana said...

Hi J: I just discovered your blog and it is fantastic. I specially love the pictures. Can I take lessons?

I took some time to browse your blog and I love it. Consider me a faithful visitor from now on.

7:44 am, July 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What stunning photos! I browsed your previous entries and wow. I'm another person you can add to your list of faithful followers.

11:58 am, July 17, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Also joining in with the chorus and stating the obvious - a beautiful post and gorgeous photo! Have made a mental note of your entry, in case I feel like cooking with honey soon..

8:30 pm, July 17, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi clare, thanks :) very sweet of you to say

hi michele, thanks. i think your site is awesome!

hi ruth, thanks. i really enjoyed your honeyed plenty!

hi stephen, you're very kind...not to mention exceedingly your site!

hi eatzycath, glad to see there's someone else with a lusty appetite ;)

hi eve, thanks for your kind encouragement!

hi amy, thanks for dropping by, really appreciate it...

hi ann, thanks. nice to know lots of us enjoy the honey/fig partnership...

hi boo-licious, thanks! "the last course" is an excellent book

hi ana, thanks! most welcome anytime ;)

hi liz, much appreciate your kind feedback. thanks!

hi pille, thanks! hope you enjoy making the tarts...

9:31 pm, July 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I can't help but add my comment to the chorus...that is definitely one gorgeous photo!! Keep up the good work! :)

10:10 pm, July 18, 2005  
Blogger Mika said...

Your photo makes me feel I am standing right there in your kitchen. Wonderful post!

10:31 pm, July 18, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi alice, thanks for your kind feedback

hi mika, thanks for dropping by

hi jennifer, thank YOU for creating SHF - it's brilliant!

6:45 pm, July 20, 2005  

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