Fig Tart Tatin and why photographing ice cream is a job for the professionals.

Fig Tart TatinI do a moderately good job on the photos. Well, I have reached the stage in my development (pun intended) that I know how much I don’t know. I know my known knowns. I have a good idea of the known unknowns. I know there probably are some unknown unknowns too. But, I’ll leave it there for fear of turning into the Donald Rumsfeld of the food blogging community. Let me show you my Fig Tart Tatin instead.

I stuck the pan into the shot for a bit of interest. The blue stuff is the frozen puff pastry.

I stuck the pan into the shot for a bit of interest. The blue stuff is the frozen puff pastry.

Of late, my ingredient lists have been getting shorter and shorter. This time, we are reduced to just four star components.

  • A sheet of pre-made puff pasty
  • 8 or 9 figs
  • 80 grammes of butter
  • 60 grammes of sugar

First, trim and half the figs like I did in the top photo (a reasonably good picture, if I say so myself). Put them in a 100ºC oven for half an hour. This will concentrate the flavour by causing some of the water to evaporate. While this is going on, roll out the pastry so it’s big enough to cover the frying pan.

Possibly not my greatest photo but it does the job. The texture of the pastry is clearly visible.

Possibly not my greatest photo but it does the job. The texture of the pastry is clearly visible.

Use a big plate as a template and cut roughly around it. Be sure it’s bigger than the frying pan.

My photography is more accurate than my circle cutting.

My photography is more accurate than my circle cutting.

Put the sugar and butter into a frying pan (skillet) and warm it over a low to medium heat.

Nothing wrong with this photograph. I took some earlier and some later. This was the best.

Nothing wrong with this photograph. I took some earlier and some later. This was the best.

The butter will melt and, eventually, the sugar will melt too. A bubbly caramel will form. Don’t be tempted to stir it.

If you have a good pan, it will bubble all over and turn a nice dark brown.

If you have a good pan, it will bubble all over and turn a nice dark brown.

When it turns a nice brown colour, take it off the heat. Let it cool a little and add the figs, cut side down.

I was happy with this shot too. Natural afternoon light, north facing window.

I was happy with this shot too. Natural afternoon light, north facing window.

Add the pastry and press it down gently between the figs until you feel some resistance (just like taking a photo).

Don't put your arm across between the camera and the light, like I did.

Don’t put your arm across between the camera and the light, like I did.

Pop this in the oven for 30 minutes at 180ºC. Take it out and let it cool for 10 minutes.

A nice rise on the pastry. I was feeling pretty confident.

A nice rise on the pastry. I was feeling pretty confident.

Place the large plate over the frying pan and get ready to be very, very focussed (yes, I meant it). Quickly flip the pan and plate over. Hold your breath and wait the half second for the tart to make a little slurping noise. Gently lift the pan away to expose (I meant that one too) a lovely fig tart tatin.

Fig Tart Tatin

So far so good. The tart looks pretty good at this stage.

All that was left to do was to serve slices of the tart with ice cream. The problem with ice cream is that it melts. So one has little time to set up the shot and take the photo. The pressure is increased by the family who want to be served. This is where I cracked, I shot the slice of tart, in a rush, from four different angles and two heights. The only half acceptable shot is the one below showing the back of the tart slice. My lack of skill, or planning or testing or experience is exposed (sorry, last time).

Not the best shot of a slice of tart tatin one has ever seen. One of the tastiest though.

Not the best shot of a slice of tart tatin one has ever seen. One of the tastiest though.

The tart tasted a lot better than it looks here. At this stage, I had to give a different aperture priority (geddit?) and just eat the thing. Delicious.

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Latest comments
  • Nice. I tried to make a fig tart tatin at some point; no contest.

    • It’s pretty easy. The slurping moment being the only pressure point.

  • A fig tart tatin with puff pastry, how wonderful! This type of tart is probably the best ever with such few ingredients. The fruit flavor is deepened and everything tastes better with a caramel undertone. Photographing ice cream is a pain, I agree.

    • Thanks Paula,
      The tart didn’t last too long. That’s the best measure of it’s quality in my book.

  • Conor, Mrs K used to be a Cadburys home economist doing food for photography, the ice cream trick is (or was) to use (their instant) mashed potato in photos as it looks exactly like ice cream and doesn’t melt!

    • Thanks Pip,
      My problem is I have to feed the hoard with the stuff too. I suspect my rep might go south if I started using Smash.

  • It looks like you did a good job.
    Ice cream photographers used to add things to ice cream to stop it melting, such as methalated spirits. Generally though, food photograpy has become a lot more natural in the last 20 years 😉

    • Thanks MD,
      I was talking to somebody who knows somebody who was involved in a recent cream production over here. White paint, thinned to suit. Looks good but I suspect it doesn’t taste too good with the strawberries.

  • I had the same problem while photographing my goat cheese and basil ice cream. Just melted in my gaspacho… 🙂 http://frenchgirlcuisine.com/2013/07/22/gazpacho-goat-cheese-basil-ice-cream/ Maybe I will do better next time… By the way your pie is splendid!

    • Thanks indeed. My eldest had similar problems with her basil sorbet. Tasted divine all the same.

  • Great looking tart tatin Conor. If I know i’m going to photograph ice cream, I make rounds/quenelles/scoops ahead of time and re-freeze. It then allows a little more time to get the shot right before it melts all over the place.

    Not that this dish needs it though.

    • That’s probably a good practical approach that I should adopt. Either that or stay away from the desserts altogether.

  • I think I have frying pan envy:) Great tart tatin , figs and caramel are such a brilliant combination.

    • Thank you,
      I was very lucky to get my hands on those beautiful copper and brass pans.

  • Beautiful Fig Tart Tatin! Looks yummy, and that photo really isn’t at all bad Conor. I like one of the suggestions up top, to use mashed potatoes.

    • Lidia, I am shocked. We had to eat it also. Tart and mash just does not have the same appeal.

  • Lovely those figs and I would enjoy eating that tart tatin, it is one of my favourite desserts to make as well.!

    • What time of year do you get yours down there Willie? You are in Spring now as I understand it. A while to wait for the figs.

      • There are imported one available, but horrible in quality and price is just too expensive, we get local produce only around November, but very little and hard to find, if you don’t know somebody with a fig tree you won’t get them actually, fortunately my sister has a huge tree! 🙂

        • I look forward to seeing something from the tree.

  • I’m with the person who has frying pan envy. Not just for the delicious looking food but for the pan itself. Another item for my Christmas wish list! Nicki

  • As I discovered after taking a class given by a professional food stylist was that 1) they don’t use real ice cream – likely it is lard shaped to look like the real deal, 2) there isn’t anybody standing there waiting for their meal to be served and 3) they spend half a day styling the shot with props so that when it is time for the food to be shot, they have all the lighting, angles, props, etc. in place and it all goes very quickly. They also take about 200 shots and then edit the heck out of the final shot. Food photography is not for the feint of heart.

    • Quite right ….and from the shoots I’ve been on, most of it goes in the bin afterwards lest everyone gets salmonella from the food sitting around all day. Also, when shooting for ice cream companies we had a model-maker create the scoops from scratch to specs of the company. There were always scoops of ice cream and ice cubes lying around the workroom. The kids loved to play with them! You did good Mr Bofin.

      • Thanks Christina, Many years ago, I was working on a paint shoot. They even diluted and coloured the paint to get it right for pouring. Mind you, that was back in the 35mm day when footage really cost in cameramen, lighting cameramen, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, grips, best boys, clapper loaders, assistant clapper loaders, make-up, assistant make-up and a whole variety of other hangers on that went into making commercials cost an arm and a leg. I’m glad I only do this for fun.

    • Hi Steph, I can imagine how things would be around here when I serve lard with tart. I do sometimes get to the 200 shot mark but not very often. I do a deal of processing too, though I am only an amateur in that department too.

      • It would be kind of funny though if you served up 2 hour old pie with what looked like a fresh scoop of ice cream – LOL!

  • Gorgeous. You photo with your hand sparked a thought. I wish cameras came with two buttons. One for the right hand and one for the left so we had more options to get the right shot.

    • I am a left hander. They could come up with a left handed camera and I would be in the market. Interestingly, in my experience in the creative industry, there is a disproportionate number of lefties in the creative business. One company I worked for had a 25% average versus 10% in the general population. There may be a market for leftie cameras.

      • It does seem like a no brainer. I’m a rightie but I use my left a lot.

  • This looks divine! Oh yes, ice cream with warm cakes is wonderful but it melts. By the way I wonder how the Chinese dessert of fried ice cream is made then…

    • It’s a combination of speed and insulation. The old classic Baked Alaska worked the same way. Probably not worth all the effort.

  • Looks gorgeous. And I think you got your priorities right!

  • Conor–I think there’s home photography of ice cream and studio photography of ice cream, and you’re doing a great job in the home category. There are only so many hoops you can jump through before the post becomes about the food styling and multiple takes and not about the food you make and eat. Lovely tarte tatin, by the way. ken

    • Words of wisdom Ken. If my stuff ever becomes about the food styling rather than about the food and the fun around it, I am depending on you to let me know, so I can give it up and do something else.
      Best,
      Conor

  • lovely dessert! I was so mesmerized by the tart that I might not have even noticed the poor ice cream if you hadn’t pointed it out. I really want to invest some more time into improving my picture taking skills, but unfortunately the SLR didn’t survive the wedding 🙁 I hope Canon can fix it!

    • Those Canon wizards can fix anything. The only issue will be the bill. Get it fixed and get back in the game.
      Best,
      Conor

  • A post completely filled with puns and double entendres – I couldn’t be happier! And such beautiful photos, as always! Quite a sophisticated dessert for having only 4 ingredients, too.

    • Thanks Tommy, I had fun writing this one. I am such a child at heart!

  • This looks incredible and easy! I just might have to try my hand at this one! Thank you!

  • This looks so incredibly good, Conor. You’ve really tempted me to seek out some fruit at the farmers market tomorrow morning and make one for myself. As for the ice cream photos, I think yours have always been very good. For every one that I’ve posted, there are at least a dozen rejected photos taking up space on my hard drive, not to mention the countless scoops of ice cream that were set aside (read “ate”) because they melted before THE shot was achieved. 🙂

    • Amen to all of that John. But, there is a limit to how much I can get away with under the stern gaze of my girls.

  • The trials and tribulations of being not only the chef but the photographer of a blog. Believe me, we all know how delicious your fig tart was. Your reputation is safe and sound as both a wonderful cook and photographer. 🙂

    • Karen, you are far too kind and forgiving.
      Best,
      Conor

  • That tarte tatin looks really delicious! A big congratulations on your win at the blog awards! Sorry, am just catching up with my favourite blogs! 🙂

  • Looks amazing! Are you still getting figs over the water? I’m in Brighton, and they seem to have dropped out of my local grocery shops in the past couple of weeks, shame…

    • Sadly, the figs are a memory until next September. There are lots of dried figs in the markets but they are only good for eating like sweets.

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