Fresh Figs and Mascarpone: A Cardamom Custard Pie

Mascarpone fig pie (11)This recipe is inspired by my fellow blogger-friend, Diane.  A few weeks ago she wrote about the delectable food and festivities on the north end of Boston (a place I’ve never been but now would love to visit).  As usual, her post was a joy to read, and this time she further engaged readers by asking for help recreating an Italian pasta dish.  It involved sausage, black mission figs, and mascarpone; she’d gotten too small a taste of it from her daughter’s plate on their recent day uptown.  Naturally, the meat dropped from my mind right away, but the remaining ingredients became my next dessert obsession.

Mascarpone fig pie (1)I chose fresh, ripe figs since they are very much in season, and decided to pair them with a modified version of the crisp oatmeal crust I introduced here. Together with a bit of tangy orange zest and a stovetop custard made with silky mascarpone, the pie’s creamy sweetness invited a rich and mellow spice: none other than exquisite cardamom. While I failed to recreate her dinner, I’m indebted to Diane for this perfect fall dessert.

Cardamom Mascarpone Fig Pie (makes a 9″ pie; serves 10)

For the crust**:

  • 1 medium/large orange
  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperatureMascarpone fig pie (8)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (decrease a bit if butter is salted)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1.25 cups old fashioned rolled oats

Generously grease a 9″ 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 salt, cardamom and flour over the butter mixture.  Stir, adding 1 tablespoon of the orange juice (reserve remaining juice for pie glaze if desired).  Fold in the oats and 1 packed 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 evenly in the bottom and sides (1/4 to 1/3 inch thick). Freeze crust for 30 minutes or up to overnight. Bake frozen crust at 375 F for about 20 minutes, until fragrant and edges are toasty brown, with center looking dry and not soft.  Let crust cool completely; place in fridge if desired. (Cover crust tightly if not using the same day.)

Mascarpone fig pieFor the filling:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • remaining orange zest from crust recipe
  • 1 cup half-and-half or milk
  • 1.25 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1.25 cup mascarpone cheese
  • About 20 small fresh, ripe figs (I used Black Mission), weighing about 13.5 ounces total with stems 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, sugar and honey; beat well, until smooth, creamy, and light yellow.  Sift over yolk mixture: cornstarch, flour and salt.  Whisk well, until no traces of dry ingredients remain; set aside.  In a small/medium saucepan, whisk together the orange zest, half-and-half or milk, and cardamom.  Over medium heat, cook mixture until it just boils, whisking occasionally.  Turn off burner, remove pan from heat, and pan let sit for just 30 – 60 seconds.  Give the egg mixture another good stir, then slowly pour about half of the hot milk into the egg mixture, constantly and vigorously stirring.  Keep whisking while you add remaining hot milk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, whisking continuously, and set over burner Mascarpone fig pie (2)at medium heat. Whisk continuously. Watch carefully: Mixture 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 mixture 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 minutes, until creamy, smooth and even (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.  [Optional: To give the figs a nice shine and to slow their discoloration, you may opt to glaze them before chilling the pie. To do so, combine 3 tablespoons of remaining orange juice from crust recipe and 1/4 cup sugar in a saucepan.  Heat, mixing constantly, until no sugar granules remain and the syrup has boiled for at least 30 seconds.  Bush gently onto the fig slices.  Alternatively, you can use apricot (or similar) preserves whisked well with a splash of boiling water to glaze the fruit.]  Refrigerate pie at least 3 hours or overnight.  Serve chilled, and eat within 24 hours.

Mascarpone fig pie (6)This fig pie is sweet and rich — creamy with decadence and just the right amount of soft spice.  Its crisp oatmeal crust offers a hearty, whole crumb that contrasts deliciously with a velvety custard center, carrying a perfect hint of citrus.  Fig lovers will delight in the generous, succulent fruit on each slice, just as cardamom enthusiasts will savor the gentle seasoning of every luscious bite… 

Mascarpone fig pie (9)**Maybe next time… If you don’t feel like fussing with such a complicated crust recipe, a gingersnap crust like this one is much simpler and just as delicious.  If you aren’t a fig fan, feel free to swap them with any fruit that you’d enjoy uncooked.  (I’m already daydreaming of this pie covered with seedless mandarin orange segments this winter, or pear slices or fresh berries!)  Same with the cardamom: while I LOVED it in this pie (and these cookies), it can be replaced with ground cinnamon or ginger or the like, or with nothing at all.  (Note: If you replace the cardamom with another spice, be sure start with a small amount; some are much stronger than others).  Likewise, I imagine almost any citrus would be wondrous for this pie, such as the zest and juice of a lemon or grapefruit, in place of the orange.

Mascarpone fig pie (7) Mascarpone fig pie (5) Mascarpone fig pie (10)

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22 Responses to Fresh Figs and Mascarpone: A Cardamom Custard Pie

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  4. katy says:

    This is so pretty (as Cameron said, a work of art!) and does great justice to figs, which I often find that Americans don’t really appreciate (maybe it helps to have a tree and to get them at their absolute best?). Figs with mascarpone are particularly good (I remember stuffing figs and popping them into my mouth at a low moment during the dissertation); I bet a sweetened whipped ricotta filling would be just as wonderful. 🙂

  5. Erica says:

    You did such a beautiful job with the arrangement of the figs on top. It looks wonderful… and also incredibly delicious. The pictures you took look mouthwatering too…

  6. jen says:

    This looks beautiful, It’s tempting me to try figs even although I’m not sure about them. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jen! I know many people who are skeptical about figs, some of whom prefer the green ones over the brown ones and vice versa — and some who will never dare eat one. I trust that this pie could be just as nicely made with a different fruit, if that’s any incentive. Thanks again!


  7. This is not just artful–it is art! Mascarpone is such an inspired idea for figs! We had a little trat similar to this one in Athens, but I am sure it was not as good as yours!

    • Thank you so much, Cameron. I do feel a lot of creative fulfillment when I make these things — even when the first couple of tries end up in the food waste bin 🙂 — so it means a lot to me when someone (especially someone as creative as you) calls them art! Mascarpone is buttery magic, and I think it would taste even better in Athens!


  8. What can I say!? First thank you so much for such a generous shout out – it is truly appreciated. But my oh my what you have done with figs – I keep wondering what you’ll come up with next to top all of your other creations, but this is absolutely stunning & the ingredients are making my mouth water. You’ve also answered a question I had about figs – I did make the fig/sausage/penne dish with fresh black mission figs & wasn’t sure if the skin was edible so I peeled it all off (creating a little bit of a mess). Now I know that it’s ok to keep those skins on & will do that next time.

    • My pleasure, Diane! I always appreciate your support and kind comments, and you really did inspire this recipe, so mentioning you was the least I could do! If we lived closer to one another, then I’d also share the desserts, too. : ) Peeling figs sounds so tedious — I’m impressed!

  9. lonaj68 says:

    Coming on to fig season very soon here in Australia. I know what I’ll be making with them. Fantastic recipe. Thanks for sharing it.

  10. Mara says:

    I agree with Hannelore: absolutely stunning!

  11. Wow! This is the most beautiful dessert I’ve ever seen! I would love a slice with my cup of tea tonight. Thank you for sharing! You’re amazing!

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