Autumn is, without a doubt, my favourite season. I take pleasure in the cool, crisp mornings and brilliant colours; and the beautiful produce that comes with it really is such treat to enjoy. Someone recently commented to me that the thing they love most about autumn is the stillness, and while they were referring specifically to where they live (apparently it gets a bit blowy over summer), to me this resonated more generally. I think we all crave a bit of stillness sometimes, and I've come to find this in the deserted walks taken while everyone else huddles indoors; and the time spent slow cooking and with books, blankets and armchairs. The cool nights encourage us to share bold wines and cosy dinners, and as the weather makes the desire to curl up indoors much more justifiable, everything finally begins to feel a little less rushed.
Autumn is also my favourite season for produce, and as our thoughts turn to stews, puddings and crumbles some of my most favourite ingredients also begin to pop up. I just love when the foragers start talk of game and wild mushrooms, and when gardens become heavy with rhubarb, quince and pears. Last week some friends gave me a lovely little bag of figs from their garden, and while the ripest were either enjoyed immediately or salvaged into a sweet jar of fig and vanilla jam, the best ones were saved for this indulgent pear and fig semolina tart.
This tart has it all, from the buttery biscuity crust to the fresh bursts of sticky autumn fruit, and I make no apology for embracing all the clichès when I say that the custard is utterly luxurious. The semolina imparts such a wonderful texture and despite being rich, it is nowhere near as heavy as the more traditional crème pâtissière. This tart would certainly work well with other fruits (I'm eyeing off poached quince, or perhaps some nectarine and blueberries come summer), but the combination of pear and fig just suits it so perfectly. A glorious tart for a glorious season. Now, if I could just have that open fire and comfy armchair...
PEAR AND FIG SEMOLINA TART (Taken, with a boozy substitution, from The Agrarian Kitchen by Rodney Dunn)
- 3 Buerre bosc pears, peeled and cut into 2 cm chunks
- 50 g butter
- 270 g caster sugar
- 500 ml milk
- 100 ml cream
- 80 g fine semolina
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
- 30 ml muscat (or Madeira)
- 6 figs, cut in half lengthways
For the pastry
- 500 g plain flour
- 310 g butter
- 1 egg
- 3 egg yolks
- 200 g icing sugar
- pinch of salt
- zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
To make the shortcrust pastry, place the butter and flour in a large bowl and rub together using your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add the icing sugar, salt, zest, egg and egg yolks, and mix to a soft dough. Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Place the diced pears, butter and 110 g caster sugar in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for around 10 minutes until the fruit is just tender. Strain through a colander, discarding the liquid, and leave the pears to cool.
Roll out the pastry and press into lightly-greased, 20-cm-diameter springform tin, lining the base and sides to a thickness of about 8 mm. Trim the excess pastry and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a medium saucepan bring the milk, cream and vanilla to a boil. Scatter over the semolina and remaining 150 g caster sugar and whisk to combine. Stir over low heat for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and stir through the egg yolks and muscat. Add the softened pears to the semolina custard, then pour into the chilled tart shell and arrange the fig halves on top, cut-side up.
Bake the tart for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the custard is golden and firmly set. Cool on a wire rack, and dust with icing sugar before serving. Serves 12.