My parents have two fig trees in their backyard and they have been inundated with figs since September. Mom hit fig fatigue by the time I arrived in late September and hadn't been eating very many of them. Dad still dutifully picks and eats figs daily. Both of them would gift figs every time they saw anybody else who likes figs. ("Did you bring Sal figs this week? How about John? And Jesse? Shall we bring more figs to the girls at the club? Hey, do your friends like figs?")
I, however, am not a fig fan. My father asked daily if I wanted any figs, and daily I turned him down. I think he hoped that if he kept on me I would eventually relent. Nope, sorry. I don't want any figs. Ever.
In the last two weeks of my visit I plunked all the baking books I brought with me down on the table in front of my dad and told him to pick something for me to bake for him and Mom. I suspected he would choose some chocolate-chocolate bomb like he usually does but instead he zeroed in on Dorie Greenspan's Fig Cake for Fall and that was it. Well, I thought, at least I won't be endangering my own waistband with this one.
October 17, 2009
Name of cake: A Fig Cake for Dad
Occasion: Too Many Figs
Constituents: Poached figs atop a lemony cornmeal-yellow cake with a sherry-port reduction (sounds fancier than a sherry-port sauce)
Since this was Dad's cake, I employed him to round up the 18 ripe, yet firm, figs necessary for this cake. He skipped 'round the corner of the house, climbed his trusty ladder and within minutes handed me a bowl of freshly picked figs. He seemed so pleased to help that I asked him to prepare the figs for poaching. Dad gruntled a bit about being second in command but set to work cutting off the stems and splitting the fruit in half. After he placed the prepared figs in a bowl he wandered off. So much for helping out!
Mom had a musty old bottle of port on the bottom shelf of a cupboard next to an equally musty bottle of sherry. I've never had port before, so I asked my parents if the stuff was still good. It passed their test, so into a pot with some honey for poaching. There wasn't enough port so Mom yelled from outside to use the sherry. This was way outside my cooking/baking expertise, and since it was Mom and Dad who would be eating the cake later on, I did as she advised.
A word about the honey: Mom and Dad took a trip to Greece last May, and high up in some monastery in Meteora they bought a large jar of honey. Apparently it was made right there, and when they found out I needed honey for the cake, Dad got all excited about me using the Greek honey. He exclaimed to mom, "see! I told you we would use it all up!"
(I didn't use it all up, but I'm guessing they had some argument about what would they do with such a large jar of honey, and probably about who was going to give up the space in their suitcase for it.)
The figs poach for about 20 min, until soft but not falling apart. They are then removed from the liquid and set aside. The liquid continues to cook down until it is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. I let the liquid work while I put the rest of the cake together.
The cake batter is a simple yellow cake with the addition of lemon zest, more honey, and cornmeal. My mom doesn't have a zester or a microplane so I had to peel and chop the lemon zest by hand. That was an experience.
The batter is prepared by first creaming the butter, sugar and lemon zest. The eggs are added, as is the honey and vanilla extract. By this time everything looks curdled and sad, but thankfully Dorie warns of this. After mixing in the dry ingredients the batter was thick, yellow, and delicious. It is poured into a 9 inch springform, the figs are scattered across the top, and the cake is baked for almost an hour.
I was really unsure of how things were turning out. Actually, I felt pretty confident about the cake but I wasn't sure about the sherry-port sauce. It smelled weird to me. Not knowing what port (or sherry, or port + sherry) taste like and disliking figs, I couldn't tell if the sauce was good or yucky. I asked my parents to come in and sample the syrup and Dad told me it tasted like "port and figs." Okay, thanks Dad.
When I pulled the cake from the oven it looked beautiful. I mean, as beautiful as a fig cake to a non-fig lover can be. Mom and Dad said it looked just like the photo in Baking From My Home to Yours so I took a photo of both:
Dorie recommends serving the cake with either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream alongside the cake and sauce. Dad opted for a thick coat of Reddi-Whip (ugh), Mom and I a little bit of ice cream. I took a thin slice--I had to try it, even if I was wary.
The cake had a nice textural crunch from the cornmeal. It was moist and substantial without feeling heavy or dense. The lemon zest played nicely off the sauce, which I was surprised to discover tasted very grapey, almost like grape juice. I have no idea if Mom's dusty bottle of port was a good quality port, or if all port sauces taste grapey, or if port in general is grapey. But this sauce was grapey. And the figs? The figs were...figgy. I would have enjoyed the cake more if it was without figs. Mom and especially Dad enjoyed the cake and the cake's flavors, although I don't think they liked the cornmeal crunch too much. I advised Dad to share the cake with his fig loving friends in order to keep from eating the whole thing, but he seemed hell bent on eating the whole thing himself. I guess that's a pretty good endorsement for this cake!