Before I moved to California, I had never tasted a fresh fig. Figs don't generally grow on trees in the backyard in New York, or at least not in the backyards I knew. I never saw a fruit tree in Jericho, the Long Island suburb in which I grew up, though apples, pears and plums would certainly have done well in that climate. It's possible that a few houses owned by people with Italian ancestors in nearby Carle Place and Westbury had fig trees and even grapevines in their yards - I heard rumors - but in any case, fresh figs never crossed my path.
Our house in southern California had a few fruit trees in the yard when we bought it: a big avocado tree, an ill-pruned but still productive Eureka lemon, and a dainty dwarf fig tree. "Dainty," by the way, is code for "does not produce a ton of fruit." It makes delicious big brown figs - still haven't confirmed the variety, although I think Brown Turkey is the likely frontrunner - but never more than a few per day. So we wait patiently for them all year, then eat a few a day in the raw during August and early September. There were never enough available at any given time to turn them into something else.
And then I started doing Pilates and met the two old fig trees in the studio's backyard. The building used to be a private home, and some thoughtful person planted these trees at least half a decade ago. There's one Mission tree; the fruit is big, dark purple skin, bright pink on the inside, meaty and substantial, with a floral scent. The other tree is a puzzle. The figs are small, greenish-brown, plentiful, and so sticky-sweet they almost taste like dates.
I love Pilates, and I really love my instructor Erin (hi Erin!), but I really REALLY love going into the yard after my sessions in July and August and picking 10 pounds of figs to take home. For two years now our downstairs refrigerator has been full of fig jam and fig chutney, and our freezer has always contained a few fig cakes. Michael puts the fig jam in his oatmeal. I serve the fig chutney with grilled chicken or sausages. And the fig cake - well, you can probably guess what we do with that.
Figs are expensive at retail, but I think this recipe is worth it. If you have access to a fig tree, you're set. If you live in a place where people do plant fruit trees in their yards, take a walk around your neighborhood this summer, and if you see a fig tree laden with fruit, ring the doorbell. You never know - the owner might be willing to share.
Note: The photos here show muffins, but you can bake this cake in a loaf pan, bundt pan or 9-inch round cake pan instead - just increase the baking time. (Scroll down for the recipe.)
Fresh fig cake with almonds
- 3 eggs
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 cups ripe fresh figs, chopped
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup almond meal or finely ground almonds
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, yogurt or kefir
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the eggs and sugar together in a stand mixer until the mixture is light. Add the figs and oil and beat until well incorporated.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, then stir in the almond meal. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients alternately with the buttermilk; beat until well combined.
For muffins: Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray - no need for paper liners. Fill the muffin cups three-quarters of the way to the top. Bake about 30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan 2 minutes, then remove the muffins to a rack to cool.
To bake in a loaf, bundt or cake pan, increase the baking time to 50-60 minutes.