Fig Pâte de Fruit en Croûte.
By far the finest weekend of matrimony took place on a 300 acre farm in Finncastle, Virginia over Labor Day 2010. Billed as “farm casual”, the event mandated that tuxedos, cheap suits, sequins and etraneous family be left in the city, alternatively encouraging the relaxed, comforting properties of untucked linen haberdashery, open toe footwear for all and nothing but long since unseen friends. What’s more, rather than capitulating to the tired tradition of conventional wedding cakes, the newlyweds invited guests to bring country flavored pies in lieu of novelty vehicles for achingly sweet frosting (though noteworthy exceptions exist). Characterized by an exceptionally tart personality, 2 eponymous open faced finales were delivered rather than the suggested pie crust encasements.
As a bonus gesture and somewhat self-gratifying culinary fist pump, an unprecedented amalgamation of sweet function and savory form was conceived which would embody the brazen allure of the venerable pâté en croûte while delivering a remarkable saccharine finish. But what sugary confection could possibly pass as a convincing forcemeat imposter? Well, Nabisco’s ewy, gewy, rich and chewy modern version of the ancient fig roll of paste and pastry –the humble Fig Newton™– is essentially a pâté en croûte, so a figurative fig configuration was figured out. To further suggest an astutely garnished forcemeat facsimile, dried fruit (raisins, apricots) and pistachios were added.
An unadulterated fig purée would likely not be firm enough to withstand being sliced and might ooze from the pastry shell. In theory, a pectin fortified paste “pâte de fruit” would provide sufficient strength to maintain a “slice”. Numerous pâte de fruit recipes were consulted and a sample from whole fresh figs was noodled with based on Pierre Hermé and Michael Laiskonis formulations.
Figs were cooked with sugar, vanilla bean and a trickle of honey until mushy to provide the purée element, albeit too thick in hindsight. The measured sugar, lemon juice and pectin were added in their turns however the purée was far too thick and bringing it to the required boil to activate the pectin was treacherous. Damn near volcanic. The unfortunate result was that the purée did not set properly and trying to re-boil it was virtually impossible without scorching pot or limbs. It would have been an exercise in futility, like a one legged rabbi trying to bring his wife to orgasm at an ass kicking seminary.
Cumulatively and foolishly, about 280% too much pectin (boiled with water and lemon juice) was added, in a desperate effort to set the paste. Ultimately, the fig purée was no firmer than a jam, but no less sweet. Balderdash. After a week or 2 it may have set further, but clairvoyance was not in the pantry and a viable, tangible product needed to be presented. Ideas can not be eaten, neither as a savory overture nor sweet crescendo. Initially a pâte sucrée was made to entomb the fig entity, but the dough would be too brittle upon cutting and was tentatively abandoned for a sweetened lard and butter shortcrust, though the pâte sucrée later found use as tartelette shells after a soupe au pistou à la mode de Sète with late summer squash, squid and ink crozets, which, admittedly, was just as easy on the palate as it was on the eyes.
Lining the mold with the fragile dough was a tedious exercise in patience and anger management. Once lined, it was filled with foil, beans and blind baked along with a flower petal motif of sort lid. The lid blistered slightly and buckled, perhaps from the dough being overworked and air pockets formed from refolding scraps. Some assembly was required, primarily putting the lid on the base and pouring some melted fig filling through the vents for adhesion.
Go figure. Possibly the first of its kind and well worth the labor. Pâte de fruit matrix was initially ef’ed up, however, as is the case with anything worth ef’ing up once…it is worth screwing up twice and the second endeavor will be executed further into the arena of success by diluting the fig purée which will considerably improve its boilable capabilities. The flavor of the fig paste was delicious, particularly when spread across bread, cardboard, muffins and a young woman’s cleavage. Future prototypes will require that more dough be made to avoid overworking scraps. Newlyweds were grateful for the gesture, dedication and effort and all parties were too joyfully inebriated to be critical.