Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cake of the Week: Fig Cake with Rosemary Syrup

My grandma has an orchard in her California backyard that has walnut, apricot, plum, and fig trees.

Pretty much every time we see Grammy Jean, she hands us a box of odds and ends – books and articles she’s clipped for my mama, sample-sized makeup for me and my sisters to split, and maybe some cookies or chocolates or petit fours if we’re lucky. And in the summer and fall, whatever is in this box is accompanied by another box, full of fruit from her orchard.

When we were kids, we were tasked with picking all the plums in August, but the figs didn’t come in until September when we were back in school and seeing my grandma less often. This was a-OK with me because figs’ dark wizened outsides and purple-y seedy insides totally weirded me out.

But then, sometime around junior high, my mama made fig bread out of our box of Grammy Jean fruit and I realized that figs are awesome.

Black Mission figs were introduced to California by Spanish missionaries and grow along the coast, especially in the South Bay Area. They’re very sweet and great fresh or baked into things.

But if you can’t find fresh figs (as I couldn’t last week), dried work too. Funfact: All dried figs harvested in the United States are grown in California's Central Valley, and dried fig production has averaged 28 million pounds over the last five years (source).

For this cake, I reconstituted my dried figs in simmering water and a splash of red wine, and then reduced the excess liquid to mix into my rosemary syrup. Along with the sweet corn flavor from the cornmeal, this cake tastes like a summer afternoon. In the pan it doesn’t look particularly impressive, just a standard sheet cake. But with fresh whipped cream on top it is absolutely delicious.

(I was inspired by this recipe, which has fresh figs and juniper berries.)

Fig Cake with Rosemary Syrup

Serves 10-12. Printable recipe. 

  • 10-12 dried black mission figs
  • 1 ½ cup water
  • Splash of red wine (optional)
Rosemary Vanilla Syrup:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional, i.e. didn’t have it)
  • 1/2 cup milk (any kind you like)
Reconstitute the figs:
  1. In a small pot, bring water to a boil.
  2. Add figs and wine and turn the stove off. Let figs soak for 1-2 hours.
  3. Remove figs from liquid (save the liquid!) and cut into quarters. 
  4. Fig Syrup: Bring the remaining fig liquid to a boil, then turn to a simmer for about 2 minutes, or until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency. Cool completely.
Make the Rosemary Vanilla Syrup:
  1. Note: The syrup must be cold to absorb into the hot cake, so make the syrup first. 
  2. Stir sugar, water, lemon juice, and rosemary sprigs, in small saucepan. 
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, giving the pan an occasional swirl to help the sugar dissolve, then turn the heat down slightly and boil 2 minutes. 
  4. Turn heat off, and stir in vanilla extract and cool completely. 
Make the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9”x13” cake pan. 
  2. Mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. 
  3. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. 
  4. Beat in the vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste (is using). Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture alternatively with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Be careful not to over-mix; the batter should be fairly thick.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and Arrange the fig quarters in a single layer on top (the figs will sink into the cake during baking).
  6. Bake until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  1. Remove the rosemary sprig from the Rosemary Vanilla Syrup, and mix both syrups (rosemary and fig) together. 
  2. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, slowly pour the cooled syrup onto the hot cake. 
  3. Let the cake sit at room temperature 2 hours (or overnight) before serving. 
  4. Top with fresh whipped cream and enjoy!

Printable recipe.