If you're looking for a Thanksgiving dessert, we have you covered, because pastry chef Kristine Bocchino is sharing her Blue Ribbon Organic Nut and Fig Tart. This one is a true winner, having taken a first-place ribbon at the (professional category).
Studded with pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds and bits of dried black mission figs, it also has a filling like a pecan pie. It's festive for a holiday meal or as a wonderful fall/winter season dessert.
At , the restaurant she runs with her husband chef Chris Bocchino, she might serve it with a homemade brown sugar ice cream.
"It's a fun answer to that scary holiday tradition, the fruitcake," Bocchino said with a laugh. "It's an alternative to that with some of the same flavors."
At home, Bocchino said, you can serve it with vanilla ice cream if you don't happen to have whipped up a fresh batch of brown sugar ice cream (maybe we'll get her to share that recipe with us another day).
Bocchino also won a first-place ribbon for her Double Crusted French Apple Pie, this one three inches deep, piled with apples sautéed with brown sugar, cinnamon and spices until they were almost an apple sauce, then layered in a buttery pie dough that was akin to a shortbread cookie crust. Are you hungry yet? Yeah, me too.
She is making the desserts for Cal-Fresco at these days, and has big plans afoot. Until recently, Bocchino was general manager of , a one-year-old restaurant at that recently earned a coveted Zagat 2012 restaurant award for "best newcomer." She continues to do a bit of office and bookkeeping work for Savory, but is concentrating on Cal-Fresco and launching her new catering business.
"There is no bakery in Malibu, and that's something I would like to do," Bocchino said. "I can do it right out of The Godmother, which is centrally located and a convenient spot for people to come pick up their baked goods."
Called Cal-Fresco Desserts, her baking business will feature the homey, rustic desserts she has become known for—layer cakes, tarts, pies, filled cupcakes, cake pops, bars, cookies, truffles and eventually maybe some ice creams.
A native of Malibu (she grew up in Paradise Cove, where her parents still live, and went to ), Bocchino began dabbling in desserts when she was managing the fine Italian restaurant Remi in Santa Monica. She stuck close by the arm of the pastry chef there, trying her hand at Italian desserts and ended up getting an on-the-job education in the pastry arts. Remi is where she met her husband, Chris, who was the chef there. That was 1994.
Bocchino went on to make desserts at Jackson's in Hollywood, where she fell in love with creating homey pies.
"They had a big dessert case near the front door, and people's faces would just light up when they saw it," she said. "It was a great feeling because you put all this time and love into making these delicious desserts, and then you would see that they loved them. It was wonderful to be able to offer something that makes people happy.
The couple eventually opened a restaurant in Malibu called Terra. Perhaps you recall it? Unable to make a financial go of it in a tough economy, they eventually sold it and it closed a year later.
"We had a nice L.A. Times review of Terra that specifically mentioned our Salted Caramel Cheesecake," Bocchino said. "Wherever I am now, I still have people asking for that. It is a creamy custard-like cheese cake (not the dry dense kind) with fresh caramel on top with pinch of sea salt, so you get that sweet and salty combo that is so delicious."
As she spoke, I closed my eyes and dreamed of this cheesecake. It was very good dream.
And now the Bocchinos—Chris the chef and Kristine the pastry chef—are collaborating with The Godmother Dolores Rivellino, who has been serving lunch for 16 years at the location tucked in the trees behind the (and another 15 years before that at Cross Creek), and the Bocchinos have expanded it to include Sunday brunch and dinner.
“We kind of fell into this situation with The Godmother, and it's been really good," Bocchino said. "We feel blessed to have gotten together with Dolores and Val (Valerie Titus-Parker, her daughter). It's all about bringing back the family-owned places in Malibu."
Plus, Rivellino and Chris Bocchino are both from New York, and they're both Yankee fans. What more do you need?
Bocchino bakes on Sundays and Mondays, and squeezes in some oven time during the Cal-Fresco dinner shift.
"[I bake] whenever my husband lets me have some space," she said with a laugh. "Bakers are used to working at odd hours. I can do a lot of work in the early morning before The Godmother shift comes in at 10 a.m."
In addition to all her other baking, she used to supply vegan cheesecakes (both chocolate and pumpkin) to and layer cakes to . Bocchino will be working on filling out her offerings of gluten-free and low- or no-sugar desserts as well as a wholesale division.
"I really try to make my stuff not too sweet," Bocchino said. "For me, dessert is about the flavors. If I do a cream cheese frosting, it's butter and cream cheese, and a tiny bit of sugar or agave. Chefs are more about the savory aspect of things, and I really picked that up. Less sugar lets the flavors stand out. If you use too much sugar, it masks the flavors. I want something where I can taste the strawberry and taste the nuts."
She continued, "My stuff tends to be on the rustic side. I'm not about the French, very delicate, I-don’t-know-how-to-bite-into-this type of thing."
Bocchino likened it to an overly oaked chardonnay.
"If it is too oaky, it masks the flavors of the fruit," she said. "If I'm going to drink a chardonnay, I will drink an unoaked wine and really taste the peach and pear flavors."
Hmmm … maybe an unoaked chard would go with the Nut and Fig tart (note to self: must try!)?
For those who would like to try their hand at recreating Bocchino's tart, the recipe is here. If your holiday plan is to buy dessert, place your order by Nov. 19 for Thanksgiving (Wednesday, Nov. 23 pick-up), by Dec. 20 for Christmas (Saturday, Dec. 24 pick-up) and by Dec. 27 for New Year's Eve (Dec. 31 pick-up) and she’ll do the work for you. She is selling the tart for $24. You can see the full range of her offerings at www.thegodmother.com.
Kristine Bocchino's Nut and Mission Fig Tart
Line a 9-inch fluted tart shell (with removable bottom) with your favorite family pie dough, or a store-bought dough if you're pressed for time. Put the tart shell in the refrigerator to chill while making the filling.
Filling: In a large saucepan, combine 1 cup natural raw cane dark muscovado sugar, 2/3 cup golden syrup, 2 tablespoons Myers's dark rum (optional, but so good) and 1/2 stick butter. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, and let boil for 1 minute, stirring and scraping down the sides. Take the pan off the heat and set aside for 15 minutes to cool to room temperature.
In a mixing bowl, whisk 3 eggs until creamy and lighter in color. Whisk the eggs into the cooled syrup, then whisk in 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt.
Fill the chilled tart shell with 2 cups of mixed unsalted nuts (pecan pieces, chopped almonds, toasted pine nuts, chopped walnuts). Dice 12 dried black mission figs into small pieces and distribute them in the tart shell as evenly as possible. The figs will be sticky, so do the best you can.
Pour the filling mix over the nuts, filling the tart shell to just below the rim. Don’t over-fill the tart or it may bubble over and make it difficult to get it out of the pan once cooled.
Bake the tart at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes, until it just barely jiggles in the center. Cool the tart completely before taking it out of the tart shell, although if you're like me, you'll test it while it's still hot just to make sure none of the edges are stuck.
Serve at room temperature or heated with ice cream or freshly whipped cream flavored with a dash of cinnamon and vanilla.
*Golden syrup and muscovado sugar can be found at specialty stores like Surfas in Culver City, but you can substitute corn syrup and light brown sugar if necessary.
*The specialty items are less processed and I find they taste better.
Cal-Fresco at The Godmother (23847 Stuart Ranch Road, 310-456-3254). Sunday brunch is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner is 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.