It feels like it is a really long winter in Melbourne – like it used to be years ago – cold, wet and perfect weather to stay indoors. Staying indoors for me means baking – beautiful, rich and fruity pies that you can eat with cream that warm you up rather than just filling you up.
There isn’t a lot of fresh fruit around in winter – apart from apples and oranges. That is where dried fruit comes in very handy – you don’t need it to be in season to use it. My favorite type of dried fruit is figs (I secretly prefer them to fresh ones) – you can buy ones that are soft, luscious and sweet, almost like a fortified wine. This weekend I used the packet of dried figs I had in the pantry to make individual spicy fig pies. I was inspired by a recipe in the Age newspaper I found during the week where they used dried apricots to make pies – I replaced these with figs.
By spicy pies, I mean that I added cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice to the dried figs to make a sweet syrupy pie filling which is rich and spicy. When it was cooking it had quite a heady aroma. I made a savory shortcrust pastry to go with the filling but if you have a sweet tooth, you could easily add a tablespoon of sugar to the flour when you make the pastry. Or you could make life easier for yourself by getting ready made frozen sweet or savory shortcrust pastry.
Making shortcrust pastry it isn’t as hard as you might think – it is made in the blender and easy to roll out. I like the fact that it is not rolled perfectly; it makes the pies look quite rustic. I sprinkled some flaked blanched almonds over the top before cooking. After they were cooked, I was in such a hurry to taste one that I completely forgot to sprinkle some icing sugar on top! It made no difference – the spicy fig pie was sweet enough for my liking. It suited the cold weather perfectly today – the pie was still warm, and so sweet, luscious and with a hint of spice. I had it with some thick cream whilst I sat in front of the heater with a cup of tea. Or you could even have it with a glass of port – surely there is nothing wrong with a mid afternoon port on a cold winter’s day? And then it might be time for a well-earned afternoon siesta, just like they do in Italy.
Spicy fig pie
200g plain flour
110g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon of caster sugar (optional)
4-5 tablespoons icy water
375g dried figs, chopped in half and the hard stalk removed
70g brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1 small egg, lightly beaten
2 tblsp flaked almonds
Icing sugar for dusting
Clotted cream to serve
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees celsius. Grease four 9 cm diameter muffin tins with some butter. To make the fruit filling, place the figs, water, brown sugar and spices in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 or so minutes, stirring every now and then. The fruit will become soft, glossy and the liquid with reduce and become syrupy. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To make the shortcrust pastry, place the flour, butter, salt (and sugar if using) in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Do not over process. Then add the water, one tablespoon at a time in a thin stream until a ball of dough forms. Remove the dough from the processor, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Divide the ball into quarters and roll out one quarter into a 12 cm diameter circle of pastry with a rolling pin (about 2mm thick). Place carefully into a greased muffin mould, leaving a little bit hanging over the edge that you will later fold over the completed pie. Repeat with the remaining dough until all four moulds have a pastry base. Place the dough you are not using in the fridge to keep it firm whilst you are lining the base of the moulds.
Spoon the filling into each of the four moulds. Make circular lids with the remaining pastry, about 9 cm diameter and place iver the filling. Fold the excess dough from the base of the pie back onto the lid and press down with a fork. Brush the lid with lightly beaten egg and sprinkle the almond flakes. Bake for 40 minutes or until pastry looks golden. Remove pies from their moulds and sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve with clotted cream.
And here is the pretty version with icing sugar sprinkled on top and my Paola Navone plate.