About this time a few years ago, two very good friends and I took an amazing trip to Southwest France for my birthday. One of them had a pal with a lovely home in the teeny town of Gayon, near Pau not far from the Pyreenes. He very generously invited us to stay for a few days and we most certainly accepted. Apparently, this lovely little home is also known as a chateau. I know people who know people who own chateaux. Fancy that!
And oh, is it a fantastic place. He has done a phenomenal job restoring the 13th century chateau and was in the process of slowly converting the outbuildings – the ancient stables were in the process of becoming a wine pressing/storing facility for his own grapes and I made a big push for rebuilding the bakehouse in the front. Wouldn’t it be so cool to have your own bakehouse with a wood burning oven right in front of your house? Think of the awesome wood fired pizzas, crusty breads and slow cooked dishes? There’s a big BIG tinge of jealousy forming.
We were there in late September, just in time for the grape harvest and it was flat- out stunningly beautiful. The air was crisp and clear, the grapes were sweet, dark purple and near bursting. None of the varieties rang a bell but it didn’t really matter. In the mornings, after my croissant runs into town and properly fortified with strong dark coffee, we’d head out to “help” with the harvest. I use the term “help” loosely. The real harvest workers were very nice and accommodating – showing us how to cut the grape clusters and helping to empty our heavy loads. I don’t know that I would have been as nice to a bunch of American goofballs during my work shift but they were wonderful and I’m certain we confused the hell out of them.
Each evening we would share a lovely dinner on the patio. One night, I took a closer look at the wine bottle on the table. The town co-op wine label seemed a little familiar. I looked up at the chateau. I looked back at the label. I looked back up at the chateau. I shook my head like a cartoon mouse. Yep, one and the same. The bottle was labeled “Chateau de Gayon” with the image of my new friend’s home. It was all a little surreal.
For the final night, I planned something special for dessert to thank our host for his generosity. Tarts are my specialty and easy to make on the fly without a lot of equipment so I set to work on the dough. Not knowing my plans, he asked if I could make something with figs. Maybe a tart. The fig tree in the front yard was nearly bent over from the weight of the ripe fruit, more than he could handle. “Of course! Sure I can.”
Confession: I had very little experience cooking with fresh figs. I know, completely unacceptable in my line of work but I don’t see them that often where I live in the Midwest. Yet never wanting to disappoint (such an annoying trait of mine), I took that challenge head on. A quick scan of the pantry and I had an idea. I ran it by my friends for a head check: figs, walnuts and honey sound good, right? It was agreed. I walked out front to the tree and filled an enormous bowl with big fat figs in about 30 seconds. I didn’t even make a dent – that tree was just ridiculously full with fruit.
I made my favorite tart dough and rolled it into a large thin round, piled high with sliced figs then topped it with walnuts and a slick of honey. Folded the dough up around the fruit just so, glazed the edges and popped the beauty in the oven until golden brown and bubbly. Just to be fancy, I whipped up some heavy cream with a bit of crème fraiche. We were in France after all. If I could have added a dollop of duck fat, I might have.
I knew it would be good but I still held my breath as he took a bite. The pressure! I quickly looked at my friends across the table for a reaction. Their eyes were dancing and I got a slight nod but they held their breath waiting for his response as well. He looked up. He slowly smiled. He took another bite. And another. Hell yeah! It was delicious! Of course it was. Sheesh, this was stress baking at it’s best. In honor of the occasion, we christened this beauty “Galette de Gayon” and I’ve made it several times since always to rave reviews.
The tart isn’t overly sweet with a really nice earthy flavor and would be fantastic served with cheese. In fact, please do serve it with cheese. I made it just this past weekend with green figs I found at the regular ‘ol grocery store. They weren’t picked off the tree in front of a chateau moments before baking but the resulting tart was still pretty darn good.
If you can’t find green calimyra figs, fresh Black Mission figs work well too. Just don’t use dry figs – it gets a little too Newton-y, if you know what I mean and I think that’s another project for another time.
Serve this up to dear friends then sit back with a glass of wine and let out a good deep breath. Imagine you’re sitting next to a vineyard at dusk. It’s a lovely thought, no?
Stress Baking Therapy Factor: HIGH. Enormously high. For me, mixing/rolling dough is very relaxing as long as my kitchen isn’t blazing hot and then it’s just annoying. Recipes like this typically rank high on my therapy index. It has eleven zillion things going for it: everyone will ooh and aah, it’ s perfect for sharing, unusual and as I said, delicious with cheese. Hey, a little extra fat makes everything better. There’s a whole lot involved here that’ll make you feel good so go, find the figs and do it. True story.
Galette de Gayon
Makes one 10” tart, serves 8
1 batch single crust tart dough
1 pound fresh calimyra (green) figs
1/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
3 Tablespoons mild honey, such as clover
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon milk or cream
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in the lower third of the oven.
- Wash and quarter the figs; set aside.
- On a piece of parchment paper, roll the tart crust into a circle about 14”-16”.
- Mount the sliced figs on the dough, leaving about 1 ½” border all around.
- Sprinkle walnuts over the figs.
- Drizzle honey on top of the walnuts.
- Using the parchment paper, fold the dough border up over the figs to cover about and inch of the filling. Note: the dough will not completely cover the filling – see photo. Don’t worry about it being perfect – this is a rustic tart and you’re allowed some liberties.
- Make the egg wash – combine the egg white and the milk (or cream.)
- With a pastry brush, glaze the pastry crust.
- Sprinkle the egg washed crust with the 1 ½ teaspoons or sugar (this will look nice and give a pleasant crunch.)
- Carefully slide the parchment sheet onto a heavy duty sheet pan.
- Bake the tart in the lower 1/3 of the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and bubbly, rotating halfway through baking.
- Cool completely before serving. Tart is best on the day it’s made but will keep, tightly covered, at room temperature for a day or two.