Really good, ripe figs are wasted in baking – you should enjoy them as they are, perhaps with a smattering of fresh goat’s cheese or ricotta. However, they are also rather hard to find, so I came up with this cake as a way to enjoy their autumnal flavor even when all you can find are bullet-hard supermarket specimens. The sharpness of raspberries (you can use blackberries instead) accentuates the figs’ honeyed notes, and they are excellent with buttery hazelnuts and treacly brown sugar. This cake is best served warm on the day it’s made, as a pudding with some ice cream or crème fraîche.
Makes one 20cm cake, serving 6–8
130g butter, softened at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
80g golden caster sugar
50g light brown soft sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon milk
130g self-raising flour
60g blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
4 fresh figs
150g fresh or frozen raspberries
2 heaped tablespoons demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin.
In an electric mixer or with an electric hand whisk, cream the butter and sugars on high speed for 3–4 minutes, until pale and creamy. Gradually add the eggs, whisking well between each addition. Add the vanilla, salt, cinnamon, and milk. Sift in the flour, then add two-thirds of the hazelnuts. Fold the mixture together with a spoon until just combined to a thick batter.
Chop two of the figs into small pieces (about 1.5cm) and fold the pieces into the batter along with half the berries. Pour the batter into the tin, level the top with a spatula, then quarter the remaining figs and arrange them on top of the cake, skin side pressed into the batter, along with the remaining berries and hazelnuts. Scatter over the demerara sugar evenly and bake for about 50–60 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.
Earl Grey tea is named after Charles Grey, Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1830s, who was gifted a tea flavored with bergamot oil, probably as a result of a diplomatic connection with China. The exact details of this tale are hazy, but we must be grateful to Grey’s mysterious benefactor, for without him (or her!) it is unlikely that the bergamot would be much known outside its Mediterranean homeland.
As it stands, you can even buy bergamots in Waitrose during the season, but the number of occasions on which I’ve seen them reduced to clear suggests that many of us are at a loss for how to use these greenish, sour specimens. This recipe is the answer, and my attempt to rescue that unloved fruit from the supermarket shelves. This exquisite curd is gorgeous spread on a scone or used for sandwiching a Victoria sponge (to be served with a pot of Earl Grey, of course). You can even add a splash of gin to the curd towards the end of cooking. I think the Earl would approve.
Makes about 2 x 250g jars
juice and finely grated zest of 800g (about 3 large or 4–5 medium) bergamots
100g butter, cubed
200g golden caster sugar
a generous pinch of salt
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
How To Prepare It
First, sterilize your jars. I do this by washing them well in soapy water, then put the jars upside down in an oven at 140°C/120°C fan/gas mark 1 for 25 minutes, adding the lids (also upside down) for the last 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the jars inside until you are ready to bottle the curd. You can alternatively run the jars through a hot dishwasher cycle, then pot the curd while they are still warm.
Put the bergamot zest in a large, heatproof bowl. Measure out 300ml of the juice (it should be about all of it), and strain it into the bowl with the zest, discarding any pips.
Add the butter, sugar, and salt to the bergamot zest and juice. Suspend the bowl over a pan of simmering water (the water shouldn’t touch the base of the bowl). By using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture for 5 minutes, until the butter has melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs and egg yolks (if it is too hot, they will scramble).
Put the bowl back over the simmering water and whisk the mixture frequently as it heats up for about 30–45 minutes until the curd thickens and reaches the ‘ribbon stage’ (when a dollop dropped from the whisk forms a ribbon on the surface of the mixture). You can use a sugar thermometer to check – the temperature should reach 76°C.
When the curd is thick, allow it to cool in the bowl, whisking occasionally, then pour into the warm jars and seal. The curd will keep in the fridge for about 2–3 weeks, and freezes well, too.
Olive oil & candied bergamot syrup cake
This is based on a recipe from Gayle Gonzales’s fabulous dessert blog, Pastry Studio. She makes it with oranges, and I would highly recommend trying it with blood oranges if you can’t find bergamots – it is one of the most visually stunning cakes I know. Bergamots are usually available for a short period around January to March from certain specialist grocers and suppliers. Resembling squat, yellow-green oranges, they are best known for their fragrant zest, whose oil is used to perfume Earl Grey tea.
I will add a small caveat, though: their bitterness isn’t for everyone. Despite the candying process, there remains a little residual bitterness in the fruit topping of this cake that tends to divide tasters! However, if you want to keep things sweet, you can just pour the syrup over the cake and simply discard the fruit slices. You can also make it with regular unwaxed lemons, which are a little less bitter. If using lemons or bergamots, make sure you blanch them first as the recipe says, but if you are using oranges you can skip this step and simply put the orange slices straight into the syrup.
This is lovely with a scoop of crème fraîche – or a cup of Earl Grey, for die-hard bergamot fans. It also pairs well, as you might expect, with the London Fog ice cream. Use your best olive oil and honey here – they make all the difference.
Makes one 20cm cake, serving 6–8
For the candied bergamot & syrup
1 large bergamot, zest grated and reserved, covered, to use in the cake (see below)
130g golden caster sugar
3 tablespoons flavorsome honey
2 sprigs rosemary or thyme, plus extra to decorate
For the cake
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
120g golden caster sugar
Also Add More
finely grated zest of 1 bergamot (see above)
120ml good-quality, mildly flavoured olive oil, plus extra for greasing
3 eggs, separated
200g full-fat plain or Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
icing sugar, for dusting
First, make the syrup. Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil and reduce to a simmer.
How To candied bergamot syrup cake
Meanwhile, using your sharpest knife, slice the zested bergamot widthways as thinly as possible, discarding the bumpy bit at each end. Remove any seeds with the point of a knife. Put the bergamot slices in the pan of water and simmer for 1 minute. Drain, return the slices to the pan, and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer gently for 1 minute, then drain again and set aside. This process helps to remove most of the bitterness.
Put 400ml of fresh water in the saucepan and add the sugar.
Place over high heat and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then reduce the heat to a lively simmer and add the honey and rosemary or thyme sprigs and the blanched bergamot slices. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 30–40 minutes, or until the fruit is translucent and completely tender to the point of a knife, and the syrup has reduced by half. Set aside.
While the syrup is simmering away, make the cake. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Grease (with olive oil) and line a 20cm springform cake tin.
Mix together the flour, semolina, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, using an electric mixer or electric hand whisk at high speed, whisk together half the sugar, the reserved bergamot zest, and all the olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the egg yolks and beat again for 1 minute. Beat in the yogurt and vanilla, then use a spatula or wooden spoon to fold in the flour mixture to completely combine.
In a separate, clean bowl and using a clean electric hand whisk (if they aren’t clean the egg whites won’t whip properly), whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add the remaining caster sugar and whisk again until you have a thick foam. Fold one-quarter of this into the cake mixture, using gentle motions to avoid knocking out the air, then fold in the rest – you want to incorporate the egg-white foam while keeping as much air in the mixture as possible.
Just Follow My Insractions
Pour the cake batter into the tin, level the top, and bake for 30–40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and, leaving it in the tin, prick it all over with a skewer or cocktail stick. Remove the candied bergamot slices from the pan of syrup and set them aside. Pour the hot syrup over the warm cake in stages, waiting for each pouring to absorb before adding more. Ensure you distribute the syrup evenly over the whole cake.
Once all the syrup is used up, arrange the candied bergamot slices over the surface of the cake. You can do this neatly or randomly, depending on the kind of cook you are. Finally, scatter over a few sprigs or leaves of rosemary or thyme. Leave to cool before removing from the tin, dusting with icing sugar, and serving.