Orange Fig Bar with Lavender Caramel and Orange Thyme Ice Cream
photo courtesy of Monique Fiso
I think it says something about how far I have come that, when it came time to think about changing all of our desserts for the fall, my boss asked me when I was going to have mine ready to taste. This is kind of a big deal because we only have three rotating dessert spots on our menu because the sticky toffee pudding and the hokey pokey ice cream are such fan favorites that they have both been on the menu pretty much since the restaurant opened.
When posing this request, my boss also mentioned that she and the executive chef had been kicking around the idea of a dessert with figs and lavender and that she would be very happy if those two were incorporated into my new dessert. Normally, I would not be inclined to consider either of these things because fresh figs, while delicious are frequently exorbitantly expensive and have a very short shelf life, and lavender is a difficult flavoring because of its tendency to become soapy. However, I decided to take it as a challenge and began to think of ways that I could incorporate both elements and find ways to work around my initial qualms about them.
Figs can be a very versatile ingredient. They are great in cookies and tarts, with frangipane and ice cream; they can be gussied up or left to shine on their own. I love their texture when they are perfectly ripe — still a little firm, with give but not mushy — and I love how a cut piece can look like a rose colored heart; what I dislike is when they are mushy or look like dirty gray colored hearts. Therefore, my first decision with this dessert was to use dried figs, which I know won’t go out of season and are more reliably consistent. It didn’t take me long to get from dried fruits to a rendition of figs’ most iconic role, the fig newton. After that the dish pretty much finished itself.
The picture above shows my initial attempt. I added the lavender flavor by infusing it into the caramel sauce that is underneath the bar. This sauce also played up the natural caramel flavors found in the fig compote. I needed to add some acid to the dish to keep it from being overly sweet, so the figs are cooked down in orange juice and bright white wine with some brown sugar. This mixture was reduced until all liquid was absorbed by the figs, making them very moist and plump. This fig mixture was then cooled and pureed until most of the lumps were gone, but it was not completely smooth. To add a little creaminess, I then folded the filling with whipped cream and crème fraîche and hit it with some orange zest. This filling sits on top of a crust that is half way between a tart dough and a cake, which makes it light and crumbly but still strong enough to hold a bite. The cake is topped with a scoop of orange and thyme ice cream. This combination reinforces the orange in the fig filling. Thyme is in the same family as lavender and so they complement each other. Finally the ice cream is topped with candied lavender.
My boss really liked the first version but there were just a few adjustments we made for the following week. The first time I made the lavender caramel, I put dried lavender in the boiling sugar. This approach got some lavender flavor into the caramel, but to get a little more, this week, after boiling the lavender in the sugar for a while, I removed it and then boiled the flowers with the cream for a while. In this way I infused the lavender flavor into both parts of the dish. However, since the lavender flowers were in neither part for long, this two-step process resulted in more overall lavender flower without a soapy off-taste. This week, I also exchanged the candied lavender for pomegrante seeds, which are there mostly for color. I also added the fresh fig half, which wasn’t available the week before. I like elegance that comes from the piece of fresh fig, but, because not much fresh fig is needed, it is easier to ensure their quality.
This dish has been on the menu for about two weeks now and is a selling really well.