Fig Cake with Almonds

At sundown today, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins. One of my favorite parts of this important but still joyous holiday is the mandate to start the year with sweetness. No radicchio, no vinegar, nothing bitter or sour. That will come in due time, as part of life. But right now, while the new year is still untouched and full of promise, it should hold nothing but sweetness. Honey is a traditional part of the new year’s table, as are new fruits, those that have just ripened during this autumn season but haven’t found their way into your kitchen yet. They can be served as is, baked into desserts, or slow-braised with chicken, duck, or brisket.

We have a rich variety of such fruits to choose from this season: dusty blue, oval-shaped French and Italian sugar plums, excellent for baking in cakes and tarts; luscious juice-dripping melons; grapes of all colors and sizes, from golden, winey Muscats to brilliant Autumn Flames; the first greeny-yellow Bartlett pears and rough-skinned amber Asian pears. And of course, figs, the crown of our fall harvest. There are Black Mission and Brown Turkey figs, green Kadotas and crazy Candystripes. They are frankly seductive, not juicy like a peach but lush and yielding when perfectly ripe.

Ripeness is all, though: an unripe fig is a hard, chalky thing with all the appeal of seedy spackle. So, first rule of thumb: make sure your figs are ripe. How to tell? A ripe fig should give a little. A drop of clear, sticky juice oozing from the tiny hole at the base is a good thing. You don’t want moldy or wrinkly, but softer is better.

It also depends on what you’re doing with them. Almost-mushy figs are the tastiest, but they’re not going to slice neatly. A wonderful salad for firmer figs this time of year is arugula and mixed lettuces tossed with wheels of peeled orange and quartered figs, dressed with a shallot-sherry vinaigrette and showered, just before serving, with sliced, toasted almonds and nubbins of fresh goat cheese (chevre). Or you can make a divine hors-d’oeuvre by cutting a cross in the top of each fig, tucking in a nubbin of goat or blue cheese, drizzling them with pomegranate molasses and running them under the broiler until the fruit swells and the cheese just begins to melt. Truly, one of the best ways to treat a fig that I’ve ever discovered.

A warm fig is a sexy fig, and so I love baking with fresh figs this time of year. I can imagine this schiacciata d’uva made equally delicious with halved figs instead of grapes. The cake below started as your typical fall apple cake, loaded with diced apples, toasted walnuts, a sweet spice mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. But it grows up and becomes a little more elegant when the apples and walnuts are swapped out in favor of figs and almonds, and when the cinnamon is nudged out by the fragrant, camphor-y aroma of cardamom. The seeds of one or two pods of fresh green cardamom, freshly ground or crushed into a cup of sugar, will give more than enough perfume to this cake. You could also crush the dried blossoms of a few stalks of lavender into your sugar instead, to a different but equally lovely effect.

Fig Cake with Almonds

Recipe: Fig Cake with Almonds
Summary: Want to go wheat-free? You can replace the white and wheat flours in this easy autumn cake with a mixture of oat and barley flours.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes
Total Time: 45-50 minutes
Yield: 1 cake

1 cup all-purpose unbleached white flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 oz (10 tbsp) butter, softened
1 1/3 cup cardamom or lavender sugar
grated rind of 1 orange
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
8 ripe fresh figs, stems removed, quartered
2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup sliced almonds


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 10” round baking pan or 9″x13″ rectangular pan.

2. Sift flours, baking powder and soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.

3. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until each one is thoroughly incorporated into the batter before adding the next. Beat in orange rind and vanilla.

4. Beat in one third of the buttermilk. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the remaining buttermilk.

5. Spread batter in the prepared pan. Press figs lightly into the batter, cut side up, in a decorative pattern. Drizzle with honey and scatter with sliced almonds.

6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean and cake is pale golden-brown. Let cool on a rack before removing from pan.

7. Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche or Greek yogurt mixed with honey.

Figs for the Jewish New Year 13 September,2015Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen

  • Jocelyn Grayson

    Sounds delish! Do the sugars need to “steep” or whatever before I use them or do I just add the cardamom or lavender and go?

    • Hi Jocelyn. Thanks for your comment–a good question! It works either way; you can make any flavored sugar (vanilla, cardamom, lavender) ahead of time; they’ll keep their fragrance for a long time as long as the container is tightly closed. But you can certainly add the cardamom or lavender to the sugar just before using, too. I would definitely encourage using fresh whole cardamom pods and grinding/crushing them yourself, rather than using preground cardamom. You can use a clean coffee or spice grinder, or a mortar & pestle. Cardamom, like nutmeg, is one of those spices that has a lot more flavor and fragrance when freshly ground. By mixing it into the sugar, you’ll capture more of the fragrant oils than you would if you just mixed it into the batter directly.

  • I am making 4l of these for a party – can it be made ahead and/or frozen?

    Can’t wait to try this – going to use cardamom in one and lavender in the other…

  • meant 4 not 41! sorry

  • Hi Susan. I was very impressed by your 41 cakes, but 4 sounds a lot more manageable! Yes, you can certainly make this cake ahead of time or freeze it. You can make it the day before and refrigerate it and it will be fine; any longer than that and I would wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or wax paper and foil, and freeze. It can be frozen up to a month. Hope you enjoy it!

  • It sounds delicious ! I intend to try it for Souccoth . I would like to ask id dry figs would do or do I have to use fresh ones?
    Thank you.


Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists’ residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.

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