Tag: figs

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

Most of the beaches and bays, restaurants and cafés, and markets and shops I visit in Malta are treasured finds of the past. Since I spent my first summer here 9 years ago, I gathered a long list of many places that I need to see at least once every time I come to the islands – I barely have enough time to discover something new. There are many traditions that I set up for myself, like my annual visit to the Sunday morning mass at Valletta’s St John’s Co-Cathedral, which is held in Latin and accompanied by the most ethereal choir. I went to this magnificent cathedral with my Maltese mama, the rest of the house was still asleep, and afterwards we enjoyed a strong cappuccino at Caffe Cordina. I recommend sitting inside with the locals, next to the bar and order some of their addictive treats. This time I went for spongy rum baba deeply soaked with sticky syrup followed by a buttery ricotta pastizzi – both were divine.

Fontanella Tea Garden in Mdina is another one of my favourite sweet spots. The view is breathtaking, sitting high up on a hill surrounded by ancient bastions, it allows you to see large parts of the island. Their chocolate cake is a classic, dark and juicy and a must whenever I visit Malta’s old capital.

But all these sweets are still not enough of a reason to keep the oven back home in Msida switched off. The antique furniture, plates, and cutlery that fill our family’s Malta home inspired me to come up with a dessert that suits all the beautiful lace doileys, fragile tea cups and silver tablets with floral patterns. An elegant meringue, lusciously topped with whipped honey mascarpone and Maltese figs was just right – visually and in taste. It’s sweet and creamy, light and crunchy, with a juicy hint of fruit. Italian meringues are large and pale, crunchy on the outside and still a little soft inside. I preheated the oven to 160°C / 325°F, turned it off, and left the meringue in overnight, they came out perfect. The mascarpone whipped with a bit of heavy cream and warm honey was a nice contrast to the meringue’s crunch.

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

 

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

For the meringue

large organic egg whites 3
a pinch of salt
granulated sugar 200g / 1 cup
cider vinegar 1/2 teaspoon

For the honey mascarpone

mascarpone, drained, 250g / 9 ounces
heavy cream 2 tablespoons
aromatic honey, like thyme or orange blossom, 2-3 tablespoons

For the topping

ripe figs, quartered, 6

It’s best to prepare the meringues a day ahead and leave them in the oven overnight.

Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F (conventional setting) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

For the meringue, in a large bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites and salt for 1 minute. Continue whisking for 15 minutes, adding 1 tablespoon of the sugar at a time. The meringue should be stiff and glossy, then whisk in the vinegar. Spoon 6 large mounds onto the lined baking sheet and, using a spoon, swirl the tops a little. Place the baking sheet in the oven, switch off the oven, and bake the meringues overnight (for about 8 – 12 hours), without opening the door. If the meringues are still too soft on the outside, turn on the oven again and bake for a few minutes until crunchy on the outside.

For the honey mascarpone, in a medium bowl whisk the mascarpone and heavy cream until creamy, add more cream if necessary. Warm up the honey in a saucepan over low heat for about 1 minute until liquid and slightly warm, and stir into the mascarpone. Keep in the fridge until serving.

Cut a small top off each meringue, top with the honey mascarpone and figs, and close with the meringue tops. Serve immediately once the meringues are filled.

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

 

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

 

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

 

Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs

 

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Sunday Profiteroles! Vanilla Cream Puffs with Figs, Pears and Blackberries

Vanilla Cream Puffs

There’s something wonderfully old-fashioned about cream puffs. Voluptuously shaped and lusciously filled with vanilla cream, ripe figs, pears and blackberries they are anything but a simple teatime sweet. This creation calls for a pretty coffee table, delicate porcelain, frilly napkins and table cloth, my granny Annie would have loved it! She was very much into extravagant Sunday afternoon treats, she used to welcome her guests dressed up, with lipstick and jewellery. Her Frankfurt Crown Cake – the German Frankfurter Kranz – was her legendary masterpiece, delicious and opulent, it was the star of many coffee tables.

Airy choux pastry, golden and crisp, is the secret of a good profiterole. Be it in an elegant oblong éclair or a baroque shaped Windbeutel –  cream puff in German – the sensitive dough has to rise well first and then keep its shape. To get there stress-free, there are two rules to obey: the door of the oven should never be opened while the pastry is baking; and, once it’s done, the little puff balls have to stay in the oven with the door closed for a few minutes to dry and build up structure. When they cool off a little they are more robust than they may seem, which is helpful as they have to carry quite a rich filling.

Vanilla Cream Puffs

 

Vanilla Cream Puffs

Vanilla Cream Puffs with Figs, Pears and Blackberries

For 12 cream puffs you need

For the vanilla cream

milk 350ml / 1 1/2 cups
organic egg yolks 2
granulated sugar 80g / 1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon
a pinch of salt
cornstarch 30g / 1/4 cup
vanilla pod, slightly slit, 1
heavy cream, whipped, 100ml / 1/3 cup and 2 tablespoons

For the choux pastry

butter 80g / 3 ounces
sugar 4 teaspoons
a pinch of salt
milk 90ml / 1 /3 cup and 1 tablespoon
water 90ml 1 /3 cup and 1 tablespoon
plain flour, sieved, 130g / 1 cup
organic eggs 3

Fruits

crisp pear, cut into slim wedges, 1
ripe figs, cut into slim wedges, 6
blackberries, a small handful

icing sugar, for the topping (optional)

For the vanilla cream, whisk 4 tablespoons of the milk with the egg yolks, sugar, salt and cornstarch until well combined. In a saucepan, bring the remaining milk with the vanilla pod to the boil. Take the vanilla pod out and scrape the seeds out of the bean into the milk. Add the egg-sugar mixture to the hot milk, whisking well. Take the saucepan off the heat immediately and whisk for another minute. If it crumbles, whisk in a little more milk. Let the cream cool and then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Once it’s cool, whip the heavy cream and fold into the vanilla cream gently. Keep the vanilla cream in the fridge until you fill the choux pastry.

Set the oven to 200°C ( 400°F) (top / bottom heat) and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

For the dough, bring the butter, sugar, salt, milk and water gently to the boil. When the butter has melted, stir in the flour vigorously with a wooden spoon, mix until smooth and the dough comes away from the side of the pan. Transfer the dough to a bowl and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Beat the eggs in with a spoon, one at a time, only mix in the next one when the one before is well combined.

Fill the dough in a piping bag with a wide nozzle and pipe the mixture into 12 balls. Bake in the oven for about 19 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, don’t open the door while the choux pastry is baking. When it’s done, switch off the oven but leave it closed. After 5 minutes open the door slightly, only the stick of a wooden spoon should fit in, and let the pastry dry for another 5 minutes (this way they keep their shape). Take them out of the oven and let them cool on a wire rack completely.

Prepare the cream puffs just before serving: cut off the tip, fill generously with vanilla cream and fruits and close with the lid again. Sprinkle with icing sugar (optional) and enjoy!

Vanilla Cream Puffs

 

Vanilla Cream Puffs

 

Vanilla Cream Puffs

 

Vanilla Cream Puffs

 

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Vanilla Cream Puffs

 

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Fig and Gorgonzola Ciabatta Sandwich

Gorgonzola and Fig Ciabatta Sandwich

Late summer figs call for a late summer sandwich, an effortless combination of honey sweet fruit and creamy blue cheese. There’s no cooker involved in the preparations, no oven or grill, just 5 ingredients put together in less than 5 minutes and a glass of red wine to go with. This is an early evening sandwich, when you sit outside on your balcony or in the garden, some cheese and prosciutto on the table, a quick salad of rucola thrown together with the last ripe tomatoes from the vine and a light vinaigrette. All you need are some candles, a friend to talk, some music maybe, a glass of dark red wine and this marvelous duo of figs and Gorgonzola.

Figs are one of those fruits that I could eat all year round but, unfortunately, the pleasure of their sweetness, taste and delicateness is limited to only a few summer months. In Malta I pick them off the trees but here, in the city, they are quite a luxurious treat and the quality barely justifies the price. They are never as ripe, soft and tasty as in the Mediterranean, it would be impossible to transport them. So when I spotted a box of organic Italian figs at the market, soft and thin skinned, nothing could stop me. I bought a big handful of them, enough to make a dozen of these late summer sandwiches!

For 6 open tartines, you need a loaf of fresh ciabatta bread, the slices lightly brushed with a dressing of 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of Balsamico vinegar which makes the bread soft and juicy. I cut 130g (4.5 ounces) of Gorgonzola into slices and quartered 6 ripe Mediterranean figs. Their skin was was so thin that I didn’t even need to peel them, I rinsed them off and spread them with the cheese on the bread and sprinkled the remaining dressing over them.

Gorgonzola and Fig Ciabatta Sandwich

 

Gorgonzola and Fig Ciabatta Sandwich

 

Gorgonzola and Fig Ciabatta Sandwich

 

Gorgonzola and Fig Ciabatta Sandwich

 

Gorgonzola and Fig Ciabatta Sandwich