Friday, 19 September 2014

Fresh Fig & Hazelnut Cake

I am going to be honest; until I made this cake I really wasn’t sure about whether I actually liked the taste of fresh figs when they were used in baking. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love eating fresh figs in their raw state and I’m rather partial to poached figs. I also like to eat dried figs especially when they are used in fruit cakes or fig roll biscuits – so it’s not figs per se that I have a problem with… but fresh figs when baked in, for example, a cake, can sometimes have an unusual texture and a very assertive flavour which I think is definitely an acquired taste.

I was initially going to make an upside-down cake, laying the figs on the bottom of the cake tin and piling the cake batter on top prior to baking, but was afraid that they might soften and disintegrate too much into a shapeless purée. I decided to switch things around and place the figs on top of the cake batter as, when they baked, they would be more likely to retain their shape.

Having decided to bake a cake where the figs were arranged on top, I realised that I would need a cake batter that was not too soft and had a little substance to it, otherwise the figs would just disappear as the cake started rising around the fruit.  The problem with stiffer cake batters is that they can result in a drier cake when baked. Therefore, it seemed obvious that the best way to avoid this was to include some ground nuts in the cake batter. Nuts, when ground and used in cake batters and the like, have the wonderful advantage of preserving a certain moistness and extending the keeping quality of the bake… plus they taste wonderful. I regularly use ground almonds and ground hazelnuts in my baking and have recently started using other ground nuts more often. Ground walnuts, pistachios, pecans all have individually distinctive flavours which can be used to great effect when substituted for the more commonly used ground almonds. I would definitely encourage you to explore their possibilities.

For this cake the obvious choice was to use hazelnuts as they go so well with figs. I was really pleased with how the cake turned out and for perhaps the first time after using fresh figs in my baking I wasn’t left undecided about whether I was a fan of figs or not.
 
I roasted, skinned and ground the hazelnuts myself. This creates a slightly coarser texture than the commercially ground hazelnuts that you can buy but I prefer to grind them myself as I think the taste is far superior and I quite like a nuttier texture.

One piece of advice; just gently place the figs on top of the cake batter once you have placed it in the cake tin. There is no need to embed them in the batter as it will rise around the figs to envelope them without the fear that they will completely disappear as the cake bakes. You will see in the photos that accompany this post, that one of my figs did become slightly submerged, but this was because it was slightly smaller than its companions.

Although I am a devoted tea fan, I have to admit that this cake was just made to have with a good cup of strong coffee, so that was exactly what I did!
 

Ingredients:

125g butter
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
150g self-raising flour, sifted
125g ground hazelnuts
25ml milk
5 fresh figs, halved
 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Butter and line a 20cm round cake tin with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Place the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs, mixing well after each addition.
3. Add the flour and mix briefly to incorporate. Add the ground hazelnuts and fold into the batter using a large metal spoon. Add the milk and mix through to create a dropping consistency.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level and smooth the surface with the back of a metal spoon or a spatula. Arrange the fresh figs, cut side facing upwards on the cake batter without pushing them in. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes but check it after 30 minutes and if it is browning too quickly cover with a little tin foil for the remaining baking time.  The cake is ready when it is well risen, a golden brown colour and a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.
 
Serves 6-8.