Time to get in full fig

Times Staff Writer

Figs, with their sweet, soft flesh and intriguing edible seeds, have been a cherished, sometimes even sacred food since biblical times. But nowadays, fig season can fly by unnoticed. Maybe it’s because dried figs are always around, or maybe it’s because so many other late-summer and early-fall fruits are vying for our attention. But from now to the end of October, it’s worth pausing to savor the fig in its delicate, perishable state.

There are hundreds of varieties, but in California, two dominate the orchard: Black Mission figs, which were brought here by the Franciscans, and the Calimyrna, which was originally grown in Turkey as the Smyrna fig, and renamed after our state.

The skin of the fully ripe Black Mission fig is deep purplish black and the flesh a gorgeous magenta. The Calimyrna has a green skin and white flesh, and a nuttier flavor.


Although you need do nothing more than eat them out of hand, figs can also bring richness and depth to appetizers, salads, main dishes and desserts because they combine happily with so many other flavors. Try slicing figs onto mixed greens with goat cheese to make a sweet-and-savory salad, or surround a roasted pork loin with shallots and figs for a fall dinner. To make a simple, elegant dessert, poach fresh figs in port wine or sherry and serve them with vanilla ice cream, drizzling a little of the poaching liquid on top.

Don’t be put off if the skins have small cracks -- that means they are bursting with sweetness. Select fruits that give slightly when gently pressed. If they are too soft, they are past their prime. It’s best to use them soon, although they can be refrigerated for up to three days. And don’t peel them -- cooking softens the skin and much of the color is concentrated there.

In the Times Test Kitchen, we used Black Mission figs for these recipes because we love the look of the purple-pink flesh offset by golden-brown pastry or bread, but Calimyrna figs will work just fine too. Since figs seem to cry out for a bit of salt to offset their sweetness, two of our recipes take off from that idea.

In one, figs are paired with prosciutto to make fig “pizzas.” Mediterranean flatbreads make an easy base; the pizzas can be fully assembled and refrigerated up to a day ahead. The other salty-sweet recipe is a dessert: a buttery fleur de sel cookie, topped with creamy mascarpone and a poached fig. A sprinkling of shiso leaf adds an herbal note.

Although this dessert combines many elements, it’s a good choice for entertaining because you can prepare each part ahead then assemble just before serving. The cookies may be refrigerated or frozen without losing their crunch; poach the figs a day ahead and refrigerate them in their liquid until needed.

Finally, our fig jam crescents are a spin on rugelach. The simple dough should be chilled before baking. The cold butter in the dough emits steam as it bakes and causes the cookie to puff slightly. Meanwhile, the jam filling caramelizes, so the bottom becomes candied and crispy -- delicious, but apt to stick to the cookie sheet. Use cooking spray or parchment paper.


These tender, rich crescent cookies are, like the figs themselves, best eaten right away. Make a batch before the chance disappears for another year.


Fig-topped fleur de sel cookies

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: Makes about 32 cookies

Note: From Donna Deane, Times Test Kitchen director. Find shiso leaves at Japanese markets.

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon plum wine

4 figs, cut into quarters, then into eighths horizontally

1 3/4 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon fleur del sel, plus extra for sprinkling

1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces

2/3cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg


1/2 cup fig jam

1 1/4 cups mascarpone cheese

1 shiso leaf, cut into thin strips

1. Combine the honey and one-half cup of the plum wine in a medium saucepan. Heat to boiling. Add the figs and reduce the heat to barely simmering. Cook until the figs are tender, about 5 minutes. Pour into a glass bowl and allow to cool, or cover and chill overnight.

2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the fleur del sel. Set aside.

3. Cream the butter until light. Add the sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the vanilla and the egg. Add the flour-baking powder mixture and beat until blended. Gather the dough into a ball and divide it in half.

4. Roll out half the dough on a lightly floured surface to one-fourth-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch scalloped cutter, cut out cookies. Repeat with the remaining dough.


5. Transfer the cookies to parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle a little fleur del sel on each cookie. Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 9 to 12 minutes. Cool.

6. Heat together the fig jam and the remaining 1 tablespoon plum wine, stirring to blend.

7. Using a large fluted tip with a pastry bag, pipe about 2 teaspoons of mascarpone cheese onto each cookie. Use a slotted spoon to lift the figs out of the liquid and place one on each cookie. Spoon a little warm jam-wine mixture on the top.

8. Sprinkle several shiso leaf strips over the top of each cookie.

Each cookie: 130 calories; 2 grams protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 8 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 28 mg. cholesterol; 95 mg. sodium.


Fig, prosciutto and blue cheese pizzas

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: 6

Note: Flatbreads are available at Trader Joe’s and Middle Eastern markets.

1 pound fresh Black Mission figs (about 20 small)

1/2 cup port wine

1/4cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

3 tablespoons minced shallots

1/4teaspoon salt

2 ounces (6 slices) prosciutto

6 (6-inch) flatbreads

4 ounces (1 cup) mild blue cheese, crumbled

1. Remove the stems from the figs, then cut the figs into quarters. Place in a 9-by-12-inch glass baking dish. Combine the port wine, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, rosemary, shallots and salt. Pour over the figs and roast in a 375-degree for 30 minutes, stirring several times. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

2. Cut the prosciutto horizontally into half-inch strips.

3. Place the flatbreads on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and turn the flatbreads over.

4. Place the fig mixture in a food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times to break up the figs. The mixture will resemble a thick marmalade.


5. Spread about one-fourth cup fig mixture on each flatbread to within half an inch of the edge. Sprinkle the blue cheese on top of the jam, evenly dividing it between the 6 pizzas, then drape the prosciutto slices on top .

6. Bake until the cheese has melted and the flatbread is crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Each serving: 286 calories; 10 grams protein; 42 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 7 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 23 mg. cholesterol; 701 mg. sodium.


Fig jam crescents

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Servings: Makes 32 cookies

Note: Sparkling sugar is a decorative sugar; granulated sugar may be substituted.

Fig jam filling

1/2 pound Black Mission figs (about 10 small figs)

1/3cup sugar

1/3cup water

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Remove the stems from the figs and cut the figs into half-inch pieces. Place them in a medium saucepan with the sugar, water, lemon zest and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring often, until the liquid is reduced to a syrup, about 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Cool slightly, then place in a food processor and puree.


2 1/4 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces, chilled

8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces, chilled

2 tablespoons sour cream

1/4 cup ground toasted almonds

1/4cup sparkling sugar

1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, cream cheese and sour cream, and process until a crumbly dough forms, about 20 to 30 seconds.

2. Spoon the dough onto a work surface and form into a round. Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Make a ball out of each piece and flatten slightly. Wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.


3. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and spray 3 baking sheets with cooking spray.

4. Roll out one round on a lightly floured surface to form a 9-inch circle. If cracks form around the edges, gently push the dough back together to form an even edge.

5. Spread 3 tablespoons fig jam to within one-half inch of the edge. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the almonds on top of the jam. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the round into 8 triangles.

6. Form cookies by rolling up each triangle toward the center. Place each set of cookies on the baking sheet, sprinkle with sparkling sugar and freeze for 10 minutes to harden while rolling out the next round.

7. Repeat the process with each round.

8. Bake the cookies until golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes then remove to a rack and cool completely. Cookies are best when eaten the day they are baked. The cookies will soften if stored at room temperature. Refrigerate for several days or freeze in an airtight container.

Each cookie: 139 calories; 2 grams protein; 14 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 9 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 24 mg. cholesterol; 41 mg. sodium.