I'd always known that figs were beloved fruits of the ancients. They sang and wrote poetry about figs. Figs glowed as symbols of the good life in their literature. It was the first plant mentioned in the Bible. And don't forget: Buddha done got enlightened while meditating underneath a fig tree. (Take that, Newton!)
And there's hundreds of different fig trees. The Weeping Fig. (ficus benjamina) The Creeping Fig. (ficus pumila) The Fiddle-leaved Fig. (Ficus lyrata) The Bengal Fig. (ficus benghalensis) The Florida Strangler Fig. (ficus aurea) There's a fig for every mood.
But until fairly recently, the only figs I'd really encountered came in "Newton" form. Chewy and sweet, but not exactly inspiring.
Then I met fresh figs, which were a revelation. Juicy, fleshy, tender-skinned and scented like musky vanilla and honey with hints of grass... the fresh fig gave me a new outlook on why this fruit was so cherished in the ancient world.
Later still, I discovered that dried figs came in various incarnations. At my favorite little shop of delights, The Sweet Life, the Turkish ones tend to be brunette, chewy and covered with a sugary sap. The dried California are blonder, fatter and more supple. (Read into that whatever you like.)
These days, my office's favorite Friday treat is the empanada run from Mama's Empanadas in Sunnyside. We'd noticed that Ryn really loved the fig and caramel empanada, so naturally, when her birthday rolled around, we needed a fig cake.
I was inspired by one I saw on the FreshDirect recipe page, but it was missing by the time I went back to find it, so I improvised a fig cake based on a recipe I found at Baby Rambutan's site.
It so happened that I wanted a cake that was not terribly sweet. Since fig preserves are already quite rich, I just skipped the sugar altogether. That makes this cake a nice option for breakfasting/brunching.
That said, I think most people are looking for a little more decadence in their cakes, so I'd recommend 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar, depending on your preference or audience.
Moist & Sticky Fig Cake
2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
1 cup fig preserves
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
3 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup sliced dried figs (optional)
Sticky Fig Glaze
1/4 cup fig preserves
3 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup water
1. Preheat oven to 325° F.
2. Butter the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch pan or a 10-inch round pan. Cut out a piece of parchment paper the same size as the bottom of your pan and place the parchment on top of the butter to stick it in place.
3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk (or yogurt) with 1 cup fig preserves until smooth. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add fig preserves and pecans, if using.
5. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.
6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes. If a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, remove from oven and cool the cake in the pan. Cover it to keep the steam in.
6. While the cake cools, make the glaze by combining the remaining 1/4 cup fig preserves, honey, cinnamon and water. Heat, stirring, in a saucepan on the stovetop (or zap in a bowl in the microwave) until simmering, but not boiling. Spread across the cake, letting the glaze drip down the sides if you dig that sort of rich and oozy look.
Serve with vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche or Mediterranean-style thick yogurt.