Black Mission Fig Crème Brûlée
The idea for this dish came to me the last time I was in Florida visiting my parents. My mom picked up these delicious black mission figs from the farmer’s market. When I go home, I completely resort back to childhood, opening and closing the fridge, perusing for snacks each time I pass the kitchen. This time, I kept intermittently pulling the figs out of the fridge, cutting them in half, sprinkling each half (generously…) with brown sugar, and torching them for a brûlée’d snack of sorts. Sweet, subtle, with a satisfying caramelized crunch from the brown sugar. And with whipped cream? Heavenly.
Fig trees grow throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, and even South Asia, figuring prominently in the dishes of those regions. My mom reminded me the other night that it was such a treat – going over to a “favorite” aunt’s house when she was a girl, plucking ripe figs from the tree in her yard, and eating them fresh on the spot. Figs perish easily, and their flavor quickly declines off the tree. I can only imagine at this point the intensity of flavor of a freshly picked fig.
The creamy, sweet, crunchy, caramelized taste of my torched figs is more elegantly recreated here in crème brûlée form. I cook down the figs, puree them, and infuse the cream with the puree to form the base of the custard. I use a combo of sugar and honey to sweeten it and include a vanilla bean for depth. Is there anything more satisfying than a cleanly scraped vanilla bean?
Ok. Maybe the crack-crack-crack of the sugar layer over the luscious, creamy custard…
If I was serving this at a party, I would garnish with fanned out, thin slices of fig. I inhaled it too quickly here to show you that…Enjoy!
Yields 6 5-inch oval ramekins
5 or 6 fresh mission figs, stemmed and cut into a medium dice
¼ cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
¼ tsp salt
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp honey
Preheat the oven to 325° F.
In a saucepan, heat figs, water, and 1 tbsp sugar over medium-low heat. Cook for about 5 minutes until figs break down and liquid dries up.
Transfer cooked figs to a blender. Purée, using a little of the heavy cream if necessary. Transfer mixture to a medium saucepan, adding the rest of the heavy cream, vanilla bean, and salt. Bring mixture up to a boil on medium heat. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep 15 minutes.
In a medium bowl or stand mixer, whisk egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, and honey until well blended and light yellow in color. It should look very creamy at this point.
Strain cream mixture through a fine sieve and add it in small amounts to the yolks, whisking after each addition. You want to slowly bring up the temperature of the yolks (not scramble). Transfer custard to a measuring cup or something that pours easily.
Place paper towels in two different baking dishes and divide ramekins between the two. Carefully, pour the custard ¾ of the way up into the ramekins. Then, add water to the baking dishes so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. I bake these in a water bath, and the paper towels help the ramekins from sliding around and also help reduce the risk of splash as you pour the water into the dishes.
Bake at 325° F for 35 minutes. It should still jiggle slightly. Remove from water bath and let cool at room temperature for 10 minutes. Cover in plastic wrap (don’t let it touch the surface), and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours in order to set the custard.
Coat the top of the custard in each ramekin with a layer of sugar. Turn over to remove excess. Carefully, using a torch, brûlée the sugar, working in circles evenly over the ramekins.
Note: if you use larger or deeper ramekins, the cooking time will inevitably be longer. The key things are the water bath and also that it still jiggles when it comes out. You want smooth, creamy custard, not overcooked and curd-like.