earl grey poached fig tart with chocolate

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I wasn’t planning on falling for Brussels.  Actually, I wasn’t even planning to go to Brussels. I was just planning a trip to visit a dear friend in Valenciennes – a (very!) small town an hour outside of Lille in the North of France – and flying in to Brussels turned out to be the cheapest way there.  So we met in Brussels.

It’s hard to look back and say exactly what you had expected of something after you’ve had your first taste, but I think what I expected from the European capital was a clean, stiff, suit-wearing place that would feed me a few simple, warm waffles and then bore me to sleep.

IMG_7813I underestimated the waffles, among other things.  They were simple and warm, yes, but with little bits of crisp, caramelized sugar that would just gently fight back at my teeth before giving way to a yeasty, chewy dough with a soft, almost stretchy crumb. (I should mention that while I enjoyed a few of those superlative waffles, I did also share a soft, sad and crunch-less waffle-shaped pile of soggy dough  that was smothered in Nutella and cream and clearly cashing in on the tourist’s checklist of things to do in Belgium. To avoid that, I suggest searching out the stands making the Gaufre de Liege per order.  I liked them best on their own, too, with no toppings.)

Beyond those waffles, some outstanding second hand shopping and a very, very good flea market, there was one meal I couldn’t stop thinking about when I got back to Berlin.

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Trying to find the place we were staying with my two friends and our suitcases, it started raining and we tucked into a bar, ordered big round glasses of beer from the bartender and two paper cones of fries from a vendor across the street (as we were instructed to do by the bartender).  They were thickly sliced, hot and crispy, and served with two types of dip, and would have been totally satisfying had I been a bit hungrier.

Before I met up with them, wandering around the area near the Grand Place, I had a plate of garlicky, buttery calamari, sauteed on a large outdoor grill at Nordsee. The place was recommended by a colleague, but I wouldn’t have checked it out had I not stumbled upon it, since Germany has a chain by the same name which I really don’t think is worth stumbling upon. Across the street, I bought a loaf of sourdough from Boulangerie Charli that was so good that when I stopped in Brussels on the way home, I came back to put two loaves in my suitcase. Further along the street at a Chinese bakery I bought a handful of sweets including the softest, chewiest mochi in a flavour I had never tried (peanut!).  But the fries, the calamari, the sourdough, the mochi, as much as I enjoyed them all, they weren’t the thing I kept thinking about.

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And it wasn’t the Turkish pizza I bought from a small bakery somewhere northwest of the Place St. Catherine.  I decided to try it, although it’s sold on nearly every Berlin corner and has never really appealed to me before, because I saw the baker preparing it fresh for a handful of young women who came in and all ordered the same thing as I was admiring the large, soft loaves of bread on the wall. I ate it leaning half-comfortably against both the bakery window and my small suitcase, careful to keep the sauces all contained and amazed by the combination of flavours, the freshness of the bread, the contrast of the warm, soft meat and the crips, raw vegetables.

It also wasn’t the sweet squares of carrot and almond halva I bought from an Indian grocer in the same area, which I savoured slowly as I wandered around, my mouth getting lost in a semi-pleasurable burn from the over-the-top sweetness (Indian candies, what’s the deal?!)

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The meal I couldn’t stop thinking about was totally sub-par.  It was from a little lunch place, one of a handful of chain restaurants serving sandwiches and salads that seem to target a rushed but health-conscious urban clientele, in the businessy EU area where one of my friends snuck out between meetings to have lunch together. What I ordered sounded delicious – a roasted red pepper soup with goat cheese and a gooey fig tart – but turned out disappointing.  I quickly got over the soup, completely bland yet still greasy, but kept thinking about how much I liked the way the tart looked, full of plumped dried figs on a buttery looking crust, and how I wished it had been a bit fresher, a bit more flavorful, and bit less soggy-crusted.

Back home, I poached the figs with prunes in earl grey tea, made a textured, nutty crust and then spread a layer of dark chocolate between the two for good measure.

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Bingo. 

Earl Grey poached fig tart with chocolate
150 grams dried figs
100 grams dried prunes
1 bag of earl grey tea

1 cup oats
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1 teaspoons vanilla
3 teaspoons maple syrup

100 grams dark chocolate

Place dried fruit and tea in a small saucepan, and then pour water into pan until it comes just above the fruit.  Bring the water to a boil, and then lower the heat and leave the fruit on a low simmer for at least 20 minutes or until most of the liquid (all but about 1/2 – 1 cup) has absorbed and become a thick sauce.

Meanwhile, place oats, nuts, flour and salt in a food processor and process until powder. Combine coconut oil, vanilla and maple syrup and add all except for 2 tablespoons to the nut mixture.  Spread the ‘dough’ into a pie or tart dish and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.

Melt the chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of the coconut oil mixture.  Pour the chocolate into the crust, spreading with the  back of a spoon if needed to get an even layer. Place the dried fruit in an even layer over the chocolate and then pour the fruit syrup overtop, again using the back of the spoon if needed to get a smooth layer and encouraging the chocolate and fruit syrup to get very comfortable with each other.

Allow to cool before serving.

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