Figs seem terribly decadent to me. It must be all those luscious red filaments when you cut one open, eating the soft sweet inner flesh directly off the skin. Such a short season for this heady delight that nature has created with such perfection.
Growing up I remember the fig tree in the backyard of the family home. My father would put nets over the branches with figs that were ripening to protect them from the birds. My family would devour them, as soon as they were ripe. And I used to wonder what all the fuss was about as I only started eating figs a few years ago. I think my family were secretly happy I didn’t like them, as they got to eat them all! A few weeks back I was driving around a suburb that has a lot of older Greek and Italian families and saw a terrific wooden cage with walls made of netting in the front garden of a house. Inside the cage was a fig tree, well protected from birds and other wildlife. Clearly figs were prized possessions for this family, who I suspect must have been either Italian or Greek. Such passion for their figs!
I posted this recipe over a year ago, not long after I had started this blog. I made the cake again last week, after buying a tub of beautiful figs from the Victoria Market. I had forgotten how wonderful this rustic cake is so I decided I would repost the recipe. The cake does not have many steps and apart from beating the butter, sugar and eggs with an electric mixer, it is mixed by hand. So it is hard to get wrong. Fresh figs are arranged in a pattern on top of the uncooked cake making the cake look festive. By pushing the figs down a little with your finger, the cake cooks around them and they keep the cake really moist. You can splash a bit of brandy on top of the cake once it is cooked (for that real Italian flavour!).
Fig and hazelnut cake*
140g (1 cup) plain flour
125g (one stick) butter, at room temperature
160g (just over 3/4 cup) caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons of baking powder
60ml (1/4 cup) milk (optional – replace 20 ml of the milk with 20ml brandy)
125g (1 cup) hazelnuts, ground
6 fresh figs, halved (or more or less depending on the size)
Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Grease and line a 20cm diameter cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar in a food processor until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Place the mixture in a bowl and add half the flour, mixing well with a wooden spoon. Add the milk (or milk and brandy!). Mix until incorporated, then add the rest of the flour and the baking powder. Make sure it is all evenly mixed and finally incorporate the hazelnuts.
Place the mixture in the prepared cake tin. Press the fig halves a few centimetres into the cake to any pattern you like, cut surface of the fig side up. As the cake rises in the oven, the figs will sink a bit into the cake, so don’t push them all the way down. Bake for around 60 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer placed in the centre comes out clean. Rest for 15 minutes before turning put of the tin. Serve the cake with a dollop of mascarpone, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. You can also splash some brandy on the cake if you did not put it in while you were cooking (or omit brandy altogether).
*adapted from Bill Grainger