Fig, Rosemary and Honey Cake

My first experience with figs was on the island of Oia, during the summer when the dry weather had given over to an epidemic of wildfires in Greece. Suffice to say, it was stinking hot. I remember ducking from one souvenir stand to the next trying to avoid being broiled by the sun, lest I evaporate on the spot. When the sun went down it became a tolerable 35 degrees celsius and you could stop applying sunscreen every half hour. One evening we walked past an old woman who was packing up her humble fruit stand for the day and she offered us a bag of fresh figs. Prior to this the only figs I’d had were in some wildly exotic Fig Newtons – how can you give a 14 year old the choice between those and Chips Ahoy? So I wasn’t expecting much at all. We watched the sun set from our hotel room and started cutting the figs – I only tried one out of politeness, but as soon as I had a slice my world changed forever. It was like eating a fruit that had been soaked in honey for hours, they were intensely sweet and flavourful with that addictive crackling that comes from the seeds. Shortly after we had a minor scuffle over how many figs each person got and decided the next day we would buy out that lady’s fruit stand so that the figs wouldn’t be wasted on anyone else.

Now I see figs as one of those gourmet foods with luxury status – if you’re eating figs in Canada you’ve definitely made it in the world. Figs in the fridge, wine in the cellar, Mercedes in the driveway. As a student I can only dream of casually eating a fig out of hand after a long day of classes. But Costco changed all that! They’ve leveled the playing field and started selling figs in bulk to prevent them from solely being the property of the bourgeoisie. Fear not, figs can now be the everyman’s fruit! And since they’re sold in bulk I had an excuse to use them to make this gorgeous cake instead of saving them for a rainy day.

I had a lot of fun making this cake with my family! We decided a cake this epic deserved to be plated, so we experimented with fancy “saucing” techniques with the yogurt to make it look like it came out of an overpriced restaurant. Hilarity ensued:

This is definitely a show-off cake. Make it for friends who appreciate surprising flavour combinations. The rosemary is subtle and it adds complexity to the cake which complements the honey and figs. It’s best the same day you pull it out of the oven because it has an amazingly crispy outer crust which disappears overnight. For the best results do NOT skip having the plain Greek yogurt on the side. The tangy thick yogurt offsets the sweetness and goes perfectly with the cake – it’s the next best thing to getting on a plane for Greece.

Fig, Rosemary, and Honey Cake (from Serious Eats)
NOTES: Pulsing the sugar with orange zest in the food processor releases its oils and makes for a more fragrant cake. If not using food processor, chop the grated zest, as well as the rosemary

Ingredients
For the Cake
•    Baking spray
•    2 1/2 cups (about 12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
•    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
•    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
•    1 teaspoon salt
•    3/4 cup (about 5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
•    2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
•    2 tablespoons grated zest from 1 orange
•    6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
•    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
•    2 large eggs, at room temperature
•    1/4 cup honey
•    1 cup milk, at room temperature
•    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Figs
•    2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
•    12 figs, stems trimmed and quartered lengthwise
•    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
•    1/2 cup honey

Serve with: Greek yogurt (natural, vanilla, or honey)

Procedures

  1. For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 9-inch round springform pan with cooking spray. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Pulse sugar, rosemary, and orange zest in food processor until no zest strands remain and rosemary is coarsely chopped (see note above).
  2. In large bowl, beat butter, oil, and rosemary-lemon sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add honey and beat just until incorporated.
  3. Decrease mixer speed to low and add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with milk. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Increase speed to medium and beat mixture just until combined, 20 to 30 seconds. Add vanilla and beat once more, just to combine, about 10 seconds.
  4. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until cake tester inserted in cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes (note: I had to bake mine for an extra hour – just make sure you constantly test the middle of the cake) rotating cake halfway through baking. Transfer cake to cooling rack set inside baking sheet and cool in pan 10 minutes.
  5.  Release springform and invert cake onto cooling rack; remove bottom of springform. Invert cake once again and cool completely, about 1 hour.
  6. For the Figs and Assembly: Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat and cook until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add figs and season with salt and pepper. Cook until figs soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in honey and remove from heat.
  7. With a serrated knife, slice about 1/8 inch off top of cake. Spoon figs and any released juices on top of cake. Serve with yogurt on the side.

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