No food feels more like manna from the heavens to me than fresh figs. Plump and sweet with a sensuous meatiness, they are the epitome of food’s ability to both nourish and delight. The window to take advantage of them is fairly short, from late summer to early fall, so snap them up while you can. And when you do, be sure to devote some to making these scrumptious tarts, which harness the fruit’s essence for a fresher, more healthful take on baklava.
The tart’s base is like the traditional dessert with layers of phyllo dough. But here, rather than being coated in lots of butter, they are brushed with good-for-you olive oil spiked with just a touch of butter. The phyllo is then cut into squares and pressed into the wells of a mini-muffin tin to form a dozen mini-tarts. (You could use pre-made phyllo tart shells instead, if you prefer to skip this step.) The cups are filled with finely chopped walnuts tossed with cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar, then baked until crisp and golden.
The figs are what make this dessert, in truth. They are poached with honey, water, lemon and cinnamon until just softened, then they are removed from the pot so that the liquid can be reduced further. The resulting syrup captures the fresh flavor and inherent sweetness of the fruit, ultimately making for a pastry that is pleasantly sweet, but much less intensely so than regular baklava, which is made with a sugar and honey syrup.
The cooled fig syrup gets poured over the still-hot pastry so that you hear it sizzle and settle, locking in the crispness of the phyllo shell. Then each is topped with the gently poached figs for a sweet-tooth satisfier that is both healthful and alluring.
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6 to 12 servings
These mini-tarts harness the luscious sweetness of fresh figs for a fruity, more healthful take on baklava.
MAKE AHEAD: The figs can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated, separate from the reduced syrup, a day in advance. The baked phyllo cups can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Top with the figs just before serving.
From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.
½ cup water
⅓ cup honey
One 3-inch-long-by-½ -inch-wide strip of lemon peel (no pith), plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
6 fresh black mission figs, quartered lengthwise (about 5 ounces)
¾ cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
6 sheets phyllo dough (see headnote)
Combine the water, honey, lemon peel, lemon juice and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the mixture begins bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the figs. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until they are until tender but still retain their shape. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the figs to a bowl.
Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon peel from the saucepan and discard. Increase the heat to medium-high; cook the remaining liquid for about 2 minutes, or until it has reduced to a syrupy ½ cup. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves, if using, in a small bowl. Combine the oil and melted butter in a separate bowl.
Set the stack of phyllo dough on a clean work surface and cover with damp paper towels, keeping the stack covered as much as possible as you work. Transfer one sheet of the phyllo to a large cutting board, and brush the top with the oil-butter mixture. Lay another sheet directly on top of that one and brush it with the oil mixture. Repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo.
Use a sharp knife to cut the phyllo stack into twelve 3-inch squares. Press one stack of the squares into each well of a 12-well mini-muffin pan, folding or fluting the edges slightly to make an attractive cup. Fill each cup with equal amounts of the walnut mixture, then bake (middle rack) for 13 to 15 minutes, until the phyllo is crisped and golden.
While the phyllo is still hot, drizzle the cooled syrup into each of the phyllo-walnut cups (in the muffin pan). Top each with 2 pieces of fig; cool to room temperature before serving.
Nutrition | Per piece: 170 calories, 2 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar
Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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