Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Fig Cake for Dad

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?")

A Fig Cake for Dad

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.

A Fig Cake for Dad

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!

A Fig Cake for Dad

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!"

A Fig Cake for Dad

(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.

A Fig Cake for Dad

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:

A Fig Cake for Dad

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.

A Fig Cake for Dad

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!

A Fig Cake for Dad


  1. You're father's right -- the cake looks exactly like the cake in the book. I'm so glad he liked it and so sad that I don't live close enough to be the recipient of a fig care package.

  2. ooh, you don't know how excited this recipe makes me! I love figs, and I have a ton frozen since I picked way too many to eat this summer. Now here's something that I can do with them!

  3. Wow, Dorie, thank you for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment! My parents are always in need of fig lovers--if you're ever in the Bay Area in the fall, they will load you up with figs!

    PS--thanks for writing such an excellent baking book!

    Amanda, I'm glad you are excited! This was a tasty cake, even if it had figs. My parents would be happy to supply you with figs, too, but it sounds like you have enough already.

    Let me know how your cake goes!

  4. I had never tried a fresh fig until I was in Turkey 2 years ago in Ephesus. The Turkish guide had to show me how to eat it properly. I liked it and was surprised. (I had only ever had Fig Newtons cookies!)
    I probably would love this cake.

    And whoa, hey...a comment from Dorie herself. Bigtime, ECL, the bigtime! I love your book too, Dorie!

    I have got my fruit bathing and drinking up Rum, yesterday!

  5. Melinda, I know! THE Dorie stopped by! I would have been nervous and stammering if it was face-to-face.

    I am still looking for the glaceed fruit--not a lot of options out here, if there are any at all. I might have to bite the bullet and order it from chefshop like Rose suggests.

  6. Cool! I do like figs but I never buy them because by the time they make it up here they're kind of sad and squishy. Lena and I used to eat them off the tree in Alushta, though.

    That cake looks very yummy, and I agree with your dad and Dorie (!!!!) that it looks just like the one in the book. I love cakes with cornmeal in them, actually -- I have made a cranberry upside-down cake that is baked in a cast-iron skillet, and it has a lot of cornmeal in the batter.

    Are you and Melinda preparing to make FRUITCAKE?

    Also, E wants caramel cupcakes for his school birthday party -- do you have a favorite recipe for caramel buttercream? And an easy recipe for white cupcakes?

  7. I should say, I'm considering this recipe:

    without the sea salt. But I see that it only yields a dozen, and I need three dozen! Not sure I want to go through it three times, and I'm not a confident enough baker to just blithely double or triple the recipe and expect success.

  8. hi raiuchka,

    three dozen cupcakes!!!

    i looked back at when i baked a ton of cupcakes for a work party (here) and one of rose's recipes for 2 9-in cakes made about 30 cupcakes. (that same amount of batter would also make one 9x13, just in case you find a recipe for one of those.)

    an easy recipe would be the one on the cake bible, of course! i can get that to you on the email if you want. however, when baking in quantity i say, do the recipe you know the best.

    plus, the base for that caramel frosting is a swiss meringue buttercream, easily doubled (which would make 8 cups--might be enough).

    i had a chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream recently and the frosting ROCKED. the cake was good too.

    and yes--Melinda and I and preparing to fruitcake it up!

  9. Thanks Zhenechka. I don't have a cake recipe that I'm comfortable because I hardly ever make cake! Usually come HERE for my cake fix! ;-) I would love Rose's recipe for the white cake, if it's not too much trouble for you.

    I am totally looking forward to tasting this caramel frosting -- it looks good, doesn't it? Mine will have salt on it!

  10. ECL, you are so cool! The cake looks delicious. And, I can´t believe that Dorie is dropping by and leaving you comments. That is the coolest!!
    love you!

  11. How lovely! It really does look like the picture. And congratulations on your comment from Dorie herself!

    Too many figs, sounds wonderful. They don't grow up here in Wisconsin.

  12. AaGT, thanks homes! Dorie stopping by and leaving a comment was the best part of this cake for me.

    Bungalow B, thanks! If only figs would survive the shipment; my parents would love to share their wealth.

  13. The cake looks wonderful. I miss living in Northern California where figs grow plentifully on backyard trees. Here in New York we only get them in small expensive baskets from the grocery store, so I will live vicariously through your cake.

  14. Portland also gets a fair share of figs in the fall, but we tend to get the green ones with the white insides. You'll just have to plan a trip out west during the fall to get your fig fix!