The signs of fall’s imminence are upon us. One of my favorites is the abundance of fresh figs, whether they’re found dangling from local trees or heaped into mountains at the market. Their oozing sweetness and jam-like centers are gifts that don’t need much doctoring, but in my view, deserve a celebration.
I decided to create a pie that would showcase the season, starting with a crisp oatmeal crust. For the filling, I chose a stovetop custard made with silky mascarpone: a creamy cradle for the fresh fig slices arranged on top. This combination invited rich and mellow cardamom, along with a bit of orange zest for complementary tang.
The result is a decadent pie with just the right balance of succulence and spice. Its crust offers a hearty, whole crumb that contrasts deliciously with the velvety custard center, carrying a perfect hint of citrus. Fig enthusiasts will delight in the luscious pile of fruit atop each slice, just as cardamom lovers will savor the soft seasoning of every luscious bite.
Fresh Fig Pie with Cardamom Mascarpone Filling
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie
Note: For a simpler crust recipe, a gingersnap crust like this one is quick to make and quite delicious.
For the crust
• 1 large orange
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
• 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
• 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 3/4 teaspoon salt (decrease a bit if butter is salted)
• 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
Generously grease a 9-inch pie pan; set aside. Rinse, dry, and finely zest the orange; set zest aside. Juice the orange, removing any seeds; set juice aside. Mix the butter and sugar until even in consistency. Sift flour, cardamom and salt over the butter mixture. Stir, adding 1 tablespoon of the orange juice. (Reserve remaining juice for pie glaze, if using.) Fold in the oats and 1 teaspoon of the orange zest (reserve remaining zest for pie filling); mix by hand until dough sticks together and texture is even.
Push dough into prepared pie pan, using knuckles to pack it well and evenly in the bottom and sides. (The crust should be 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick.) Freeze crust for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight wrapped in foil. Preheat oven, and bake frozen crust at 375ºF until fragrant and edges are toasty brown, with center looking firm and no longer wet, 15-20 minutes. Let crust cool completely; place in fridge to hasten cooling if desired. (Cover crust tightly if not using the same day.)
For the filling
• 1 1/4 cups mascarpone cheese
• 3 large egg yolks
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup whole milk or half-and-half
• 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
• Remaining orange zest from crust recipe
• About 20 small fresh, ripe figs (I used Black Mission), weighing about 13.5 ounces when stems are intact
While the custard doesn’t take long, it’s best to get all equipment ready (bowls, whisks, saucepan, electric hand mixer) and work rapidly throughout the process. First, place mascarpone in a large heatproof bowl; set it nearby. In a medium heatproof bowl, combine the egg yolks, honey and sugar; beat until smooth and light yellow. Sift cornstarch, flour and salt over yolk mixture. Whisk until no traces of dry ingredients remain; set aside.
In a small/medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, cardamom and orange zest. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring just to a boil, whisking occasionally. Turn off burner, remove pan from heat, and pan let sit for just 30 to 60 seconds. Give the egg mixture another good stir, then slowly pour half of the hot milk into it, constantly and vigorously stirring. Keep whisking as you add remaining hot milk.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, whisking continuously, and set over medium heat. Whisk continuously. Watch carefully: the custard can come to a thick paste rather suddenly, or it can take a few minutes of bubbling, depending on ingredients and exact temperature. As soon as the custard becomes a thick paste, remove from heat and immediately add it into the bowl of mascarpone. Promptly beat with an electric mixer for a few solid minutes, until creamy and incorporated. (This custard will never be perfectly smooth because of the zest and cardamom, but the bits of texture are quite nice.) Spread evenly into cooled crust.
Rinse and dry the figs. Remove stems and slice lengthwise into quarters. Starting at the outside ring of the pie, arrange fig slices in concentric circles, sliced sides up, until you reach the center. Cover pie and refrigerate pie at least 3 hours or overnight. Serve chilled, using a sharp knife to cut slices. Keep refrigerated and eat within 24 hours.
[Optional: To give the figs a nice shine and to slow their discoloration, glaze them before chilling the pie. Combine 3 tablespoons of remaining orange juice from crust recipe and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to boil until no sugar granules remain and the syrup has slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Bush gently onto the fig slices. Alternatively, you may use apricot (or similar) preserves whisked with a splash of boiling water.]
Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind butter, sugar, flowers where a version of this post first appeared.