Thursday 22 April 2010

Fruits of Autumn: figs, rhubarb and walnuts

On my way to work this morning I noticed the elm trees in Royal Parade wearing their autumn colours. Brights greens give way to reds, yellow and brown. So it is in my kitchen that fresh summer fruits salads and smoothies are being replaced with stewed fruit in warm desserts and baked goods. Melbourne's gardens and markets are producing wonderful rhubarb, apples, pears, figs and walnuts right now. This is a long and rambling post but it illustrates how recipes morph into other dishes and draw on previous experiences.

You may remember that over Easter I was given some fresh figs by my friend Yarrow. We ate some figs fresh but there were too many in need of immediate use. Susan had some interesting fig cake recipes but I decided to try this fig cake recipe and regretted it. It was one of those times when I made changes based on what was in the house and wished I had followed the recipe to the letter.

I was mortified at wasting the figs this way so when I saw cheap figs in a favourite fruit and veg shop I bought a punnet of 8. I needed another chance. This time I went simple and found a baked fig recipe using orange, honey and walnuts. The recipe suggested serving it over ice cream. However we rarely have ice cream in our house.

I do like to keep some fruit and spice English muffins in the freezer. I baked half the figs, squashed into a ramekin, with some orange juice, Cointreau, honey and butter. They were lovely with some cream cheese on muffins. The photo is not great but I hope you have some idea of how soft and sweet they were. They would be magnificent with a really good fruit toast and marscapone cheese. I particularly enjoyed the cold leftovers for breakfast on fruit muffins.

I bought rhubarb at the Collingwood farmer's market around the same time and decided to make rhubarb and apple crumble. I am a bit of a novice at stewed fruit. Last time I put rhubarb in a crumble I didn't cook it first and it was undercooked. So although my mum was on a country drive to Echuca with dad, I rang to check about stewing the fruit. Despite my dad relaying the instructions while mum drove, I still was disappointed in the brown goo that resulted from stewing the rhubarb and apples together.

I made the crumble but it was too tart and didn't seem quite right. We ate the crumble topping and I scooped out the remaining stewed fruit and threw it into some banana muffins. It suited me to have extra fruit puree as I didn't have enough butter or eggs for the recipe. The muffins were surprisingly wonderful considering how much change I made to the recipe. Excellent dense cakey texture and full of fruity flavour but not overly sweet.

The original recipe was for Banana, Cherry and White Chocolate Muffins from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I bought some dried royal cherries at the market lately. They are unlike any other dried cherries I have encountered. Large (as you can see in the photo comparing them to sultanas) and tasting of real cherries unlike the artificiality of glace cherries but unbearably sweet unlike the smaller sour dried cherries. I chose the recipe, partly for an opportunity to use these cherries as Nigella did not specify which sort of cherries.

Unfortunately I found the cherries too sweet and preferred the sultanas so next time I would just use all sultanas (or sour dried cherries) rather than these cherries. I would also use apple puree if I didn't have rhubarb available but the muffins would loose a little of the flavour.

I had 4 figs left and another bunch of rhubarb on the weekend. I decided to repeat the baked figs but then I was concerned they weren't snug enough if I used anything bigger than a ramekin. My solution was to pile the chopped rhubarb around it and simply bake in honey and orange juice. It was still a little tart but I added an old banana and some golden syrup. The pink stewed fruit was immensely pleasing.

My vision for the figs was to serve them soft and honeyed on pancakes with a crisp cheese crust (a bit like the ones that they serve in the Pancake Parlour). The reality was far from it. I couldn't find the recipe I sought so I made a version of another pancake recipe with some cheese in it. Good recipe but not as crispy and cheesy as I envisioned. Perhaps I need to actually sprinkle cheese on the pancakes as I cook them.

My figs got some mushed up with the rhubarb that I could only retrieve a few. So I served them with some of the rhubarb, a dollop of yoghurt and some walnuts. Did I mention walnuts are in season? Big bags of Victorian walnuts can be found in markets and fruit and nut shops. Now that we have our squirrel nutcracker, there is lots of fun to be had in cracking nuts. Ironically, despite all the autumn produce, it was a balmy autumn day and we were able to take Sylvia's high chair out into the back garden and eat lunch outside.

We had plenty of pancakes leftover at dinner time. I fried some onion with diced waxy potato, a tin of chickpeas, garlic and a pinch of salt till soft and browned, A few minutes before serving I added some chopped fresh tomato and chopped sorrel. It was delicious over the pancakes. Sylvia didn't have the topping but loved the pancakes.

For dessert I added some pear to the stewed rhubarb and made crumble. Sylvia had enjoyed the stewed fruit and gobbled it up with the crumble. E decided he needed custard with it. I told him any idiot could make custard and he went on to prove it. Seriously you can see it is not a bad effort for his first pot of custard (with custard powder, which is what I regularly use). E thought the crumble a bit tart but loved it with custard. I was pleased to finally have a success with a rhubarb crumble and one I could feel Sylvia too. Autumn is a wonderful time for dessert!

Baked figs on toast
adapted from Burkes Backyard
serves 2

4 figs, split lengthways
30g melted butter
zest and juice of 1 orange (but no white pith)
1 tablespoon honey
15ml Cointreau (optional)
1-2 tablespoons walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)
2 thick slabs of fruit bread or fruit muffins
2 tbsp marscapone cheese or cream cheese

Place figs in a small baking dish so they are quite close together - I used a ramekin which was a little squashy. Dot butter and drizzle orange juice, zest, honey and Cointreau over the figs. Sprinkle with walnuts. Bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes. The recipe says to baste with juices every 10 minutes but I didn't.

When figs are cooked, cool slightly (or altogether - I had some of them the next morning for breakfast). Toast the fruit bread so it is golden brown. Spread with marscapone cheese or cream cheese and top with figs.

Alternately serve on cheese pancakes below or serve over icecream.

Cheese Pancakes
adapted from my raspberry buttermilk pancakes
makes about 21 small pancakes or 7 large ones

½ cup plain wholemeal flour
½ cup plain white flour
½ cup buckwheat flour (or plain wheat flour)
3 tsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tbsp maple syrup
100g grated cheddar cheese
butter for frying

Mix all ingredients til mixed. Rest for about 30 minutes. Heat non stick frypan, grease with butter and drop dessertspoonfuls of batter into medium hot pan to make small pancakes or about 3 spoonfuls to make large pancakes. (I did about 3 small ones at a time.) Cook till bubbles appear and the underside is golden brown. Flip pancake over and fry another few minutes until it is a lacy brown colour. Eat warm from the frypan or keep for 24 hours in fridge and reheat in microwave.

Banana rhubarb and sultana muffins
Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess
Makes 12 regular size muffins and 12 mini muffins

50g butter, softened
1 cup rhubarb and apple puree (see below)
1 cup banana puree (about 3 mashed bananas)
1 egg
¼ cup golden syrup
¼ cup yoghurt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarb
½ tsp baking powder
100g sultanas (or sour dried cherries)

Preheat oven to 180 C and line 12 regular muffins cups and 12 mini muffins cups. Mix butter and fruit purees. Lightly whisk in egg, golden syrup and yoghurt. Add remaining ingredients and mix til just combined. Spoon into muffin cups. Bake for about 20 minutes with regular muffins on top rack and mini muffins on lower rack. Swap around to have mini muffins on top and regular muffins below. Bake an additional 10 minutes. They are cooked when golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanly.

Rhubarb and Apple puree

650g (when trimmed) bunch rhubarb, topped and tailed, and chopped
4 tbsp honey
2 tbsp brown sugar
zest and juice of half an orange
3 apples (I used Granny Smith apples)

Bring rhubarb, honey and lemon to the boil in a large saucepan and simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes til rhubarb is just done. This will make more than you need for the above recipe but can be used for smoothies, crumbles or other baking.

Rhubarb and Pear Crumble
adapted from this crumble
Serves 4-6

400g rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 1 inch lengths
juice of ½ orange
2 tbsp honey or to taste
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 mashed banana (or additional sweetener to taste)
2 pears, peeled, cored and sliced

50-75g butter, chopped
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup dessicated coconut
3 tbsp plain flour
dash cinnamon
(NB a handful of walnuts would be great in this crumble)

Place rhubarb, orange juice, honey and golden syrup in a medium oven proof dish. Bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes or until soft. (I baked my 4 remaining figs in with this lot too.) While it is baking, lightly stew pears in a dribble of water. When the rhubarb comes out of the oven add banana and pears.

To make the crumble, rub the butter into the remaining crumble ingredients til moist and crumbly. Mine seemed to have too much butter so I think I would use a bit less (maybe 50g for a start). Scatter the crumble over the stewed fruit. Bake at 180 C for about 30-40 minutes til the crumble topping is golden brown. I think mine was came out a little earlier but I knew I would be reheating it in the oven over the next night or two so I didn't want it too overdone - esp as the peaks were a little dark.

Serve warm with cream or yoghurt or custard! I can eat it cold for breakfast too but I know that is not everyone's preference!

On the Stereo:
10 Great Songs: Jethro Tull


  1. Ahhh, a truly dreamy collection of recipes... I always love the stories behind a recipe's creation, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this beautiful tale of a fig's journey! I'm completely swooning over your luscious photos of the fresh figs... Fresh figs are one of my favorite treats! You've inspired me to fix rhubarb tonight, too - your crumble sounds too delicious not to fix immediately! :-)

  2. That is quite a metamorphosis but no use in wasting good food I say! And I've been eyeing off that squirrel nutcracker. Does it work well? I thought it might be more for display purposes but if it works well, I must get one :P

  3. Phwoar - look at those figs - they are so juicy and delicious! Love the English muffin idea.

  4. I love the stream-of-consciousness nature of the food/recipes/eating in this post. Everythign just flows into the other, and almost makesme forget the agony that is still having not found any fresh figs to sate my months' old craving...

  5. reading about fall vegetables makes me think I am in some sort of time machine--as our spring veggies are just popping through the soil.

    I totally laughed at the "any idiot part."

    Hope all is well with you--I have to catch up on all your old posts.

  6. Thanks Astra - I am just learning the joys of fresh figs - wonder if I have a bit more time with them in season - and I get confused about rhubarb being in season in autumn and winter here and yet it seems to be in season in the spring in the southern hemisphere - hope you enjoy some crumble

    thanks Lorraine - always glad to save a recipe with another recipe - and highly recommend the squirrel - does a good job cracking walnuts - haven't tried other nuts - and is fun and blogable - although we keep laughing about him looking like something out of a horror movie

    Thanks Cakelaw - you make me want to go buy more (or even better plant a fig tree!)

    thanks Hannah - it seemed a long post but everything had its place - hope you enjoy some virtual figs!

    thanks Maybelle's mom - all good here but very busy - enjoy your spring veggies and catching up!

  7. Those fresh figs look wonderful. The ones we have flown into the UK are always so tasteless compared to ones I've had fresh abroad.

  8. so many wonderful fruity ideas here Johanna - I'm impressed yet again by your enthusiasm for trying so many new recipes.

    My favourite of all of these is the figs cooked with cointreau on cream cheese and muffins. It sounds wonderful

  9. I like figs but I always feel kind of grossed out eating them. I really love fresh cherries but I can't stand dried cherries! They taste so weird to me, not like cherries at all. But I must admit that I looove maraschino cherries! I can't imagine what a crisp cheese crust is but it sounds amazing. I love seeing your thought process and how things lead you from making one thing to another. I always admire your sense of adventure and adaptability in the kitchen!


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