Fig and Almond Cake

The summer of 2016 is the summer when I learned to love figs.  Thanks to some friends who have a huge fig tree that produces the sweetest fruits, I’ve been lucky to have an abundance of figs to eat on their own and to use in baked goods. The latest fig-themed dessert to come out of my oven is a Fig and Almond Cake.  This hearty but delicate cake perfumed with almond extract is nutty, tender, and barely sweet.  Figs are scattered on top of the cake batter and sprinkled with a bit of sugar to caramelize in the oven.  The cake is best eaten the day that it’s baked as it tends to get mushy pretty quickly because of the moisture from the figs.

If you want to learn a little more about figs, check out this article on how figs get pollinated.  A bit of a warning though, the details are a bit of a horror movie, and depending on how easily grossed out your are, you may never want to eat a fig again.  So remember, you’ve been warned.

Gorgeous figs from a friend’s treeIMG_6642[1]

The cake comes out looking beautiful with figs scattered over the top of the cake batter [even though I put my figs “wrong side” (cut side down ) up].
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Fig and Almond Cake

Makes one 9-inch cake
(from NYT Cooking)

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup natural raw almonds (not blanched)
¼ cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
teaspoon cinnamon
teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon almond extract
12 to 14 ripe figs

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Butter or spray a 9-inch fluted tart pan or pie pan (I used one with a removable bottom, and that helped ensure that the cake stayed intact when I removed the outside of the pan); set aside.
  3. Put almonds and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor and grind to a coarse powder.  The finer you ground the almonds, the less crunchy the cake will be.
  4. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; pulse to combine.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter, honey, and almond extract.
  6. Add the dry ingredients (the almond mixture) to the wet ingredients, and stir together until batter is just mixed (don’t overmix).
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  8. Remove the stem from each fig, and cut the fig in half.
  9. Arrange the fig halves cut-side up over the batter. Don’t leave a large space between figs as they will shrink when they bake.  It’s OK if the figs are touching each other.
  10. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the figs.
  11. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is golden outside and dry at center when probed with a cake tester.
  12. Cool before serving.

Note:  This cake is best when eaten on the day that it’s baked.

Classic Caramel Sauce

I’m pretty serious about making caramels, so it should be no surprise that I own a cookbook dedicated solely to caramel.  This Classic Caramel Sauce is so much richer and more flavorful than the stuff that comes from a bottle or jar at the grocery store.  The most difficult part of making caramel sauce is watching it intently and stirring (and refraining from stirring) at just the right times to make sure it doesn’t burn.  So, if you feel like you can dedicate half an hour to watching caramel cook, give this recipe a try.

I like making this caramel sauce a bit thicker than the original recipe calls for and using it for a glaze on cakes.  I drenched my Norwegian Sour Cream Pound Cake in caramel sauce below.
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Classic Caramel Sauce

Makes 1 cup
(from Carole Bloom’s “Caramel”)

Ingredients

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulate sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon honey
4 tablespoons (2 ounces, 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a boil.
  2. In a 3-quart heavy-duty saucepan combine the sugar, water, and honey, and cook over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil.
  3. Brush around the inside of the pan with a damp pastry brush at the point where the sugar syrup meets the sides of the pan.  Do this twice during the cooking process to prevent the sugar from crystallizing.  Cook the mixture over high heat, without stirring, until it turns amber colored (6-10 minutes).  The darker amber the sugar mixture is, the fuller flavored the caramel will be.  David Lebovitz recommends caramel to be the color of an old copper (US) penny.  I tend to err on the side of the caramel being darker colored, but I make sure to watch the caramel carefully as it can start to burn in a matter of seconds.
  4. Lower the heat to medium and slowly add the hot cream to the sugar mixture while stirring constantly.  Use caution as the cream will bubble up and foam.  Continue stirring to make sure there are no lumps.
  5. Stir in the butter until it’s completed melted.  Depending on how thick you like your caramel sauce, you can take the sauce off the heat at this point (it will be quite runny), or you can keep cooking it over medium-low heat for another 2-5 minutes until it thickens a bit.  When I drizzle caramel sauce over my cakes as a glaze, I continue to heat it for at least 5 minutes until it reaches the desired thickness.
  6. After the caramel sauce has been removed form the heat, stir in the vanilla extract.
  7. Transfer the caramel sauce to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, cool sightly, and server warm.

Note:  The caramel sauce can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  Slowly warm in a microwave or over a double boiler until it is a bit more fluid before use.

Norwegian Sour Cream Pound Cake (with butterscotch chips and caramel glaze)

With so many baking options out there, typically I don’t like to make a recipe more than once or twice.  But I make an exception for this Norwegian Sour Cream Pound Cake recipe which holds a permanent place in my baking repertoire.  As a plain pound cake, it has a dense but tender vanillay crumb that is anything but “plain”.  The batter also holds up well to a variety of mix-ins and flavorings.  My favorite combinations are an addition of cake spice for a dash of zing to the flavor and butterscotch chips for a bit of caramel.  And if I’m feeling extra decadent, I’ll pour a homemade caramel sauce over the top.

An overhead view of the cake drenched in a dark caramel sauce.

A side view of all the goodness.  The butterscotch chips create little pockets of caramel flavor in the cake.

Norwegian Sour Cream Pound Cake (with butterscotch chips and caramel glaze)

Makes 1 bundt cake (about 20 servings)
(from King Arthur Flour)

Ingredients

1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cake spice or other flavoring like cinnamon (optional)
2 to 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, to taste (I prefer 3 teaspoons which is equal to 1 tablespoon)
4 cups (17 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 (12 ounces) cups sour cream
1 package (11-12 ounces) butterscotch chips (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Lightly grease a full-size (10″) tube pan, bundt-style pan, or angel food pan.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cake spice (optional).  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.
  6. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  7. Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream to the wet ingredients.  Start  with adding the flour about 1 cup at a time and then the sour cream 1/2 cup at a time. Mix at medium speed between additions, until ingredients are thoroughly combined. The finished batter will be quite stiff/thick.
  8. Stir in the butterscotch chips (optional).
  9. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, leveling it with your wet fingers or a spatula.
  10. Bake the cake for 55 to 75 minutes, until a cake tester, bamboo skewer, or long toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Don’t overbake to ensure that the cake is moist and tender.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven, and gently loosen its edges from the pan.
  12. After 15 minutes, carefully turn the cake out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Note: The cooled cake can be stored, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap securely and freeze.

Fig Bars with Pecan Crumble

When I moved to my house almost a year ago, my yard was mainly grass and concrete.  One of the first things I did was plant some fruit trees (peach, plum, and nectarine).  In the meantime while I try to patiently wait another year until my trees yield fruit, I get an extra jolt of excitement when friends surprise me with fruit from their mature fruit trees.  The latest food gift was 2 pounds of ripe, sweet black figs from a 20 year old tree.  I don’t usually bake with figs, but this unexpected gift inspired me to make Fig Bars topped with a pecan crumble.  Somehow the soft, buttery bottom crust manages to support a thick, juicy layer of fig jam while the nutty, sweet pecan crumble provides a bit of crunch and holds everything in place.  That said, this is one of those recipes where if you love figs, you’ll absolutely love this recipe, but if you’re just mildly into figs, this one might be fig overkill for you.

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Fig Bars with Pecan Crumble

Makes one 8×8 inch pan
(adapted from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients

Crust and Crumb Topping

2 oz. (1/2 cup) pecans
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
6-3/4 oz. (1-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 oz. (8 Tbs.) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Fig Jam

2 lb. very ripe figs, stems removed, unpeeled
1/4 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 to 2 Tbs. lemon juice; more or less to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 350°F.  Prepare an 8×8-inch baking dish by lining it with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Crust and Crumb Topping

  1. In a food processor, grind the pecans with 2 Tbs. of the sugar until fine; remove and set aside.
  2. Put the flour, the remaining 1/4 cup white sugar, the brown sugar, salt, and baking powder in the food processor and process until blended.
  3. Add the butter to the food processor and process until the mixture looks crumbly.
  4. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and pulse until the mixture is wet and clumping, about 30-40 seconds (it won’t form a ball).
  5. Pack two-thirds of the dough into an ungreased 8×8-inch baking dish; set aside the other one-third of the dough.
  6. Bake until the dough is lightly browned and keeps a slight indentation when you press it lightly, about 15-25 minutes.

Fig Jam

  1. While the crust is baking, coarsely chop the figs.
  2. Put the chopped figs in a nonreactive skillet with the sugar, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices have reduced and the fruit is tender and thick, about 15 minutes.
  3. Stir in the lemon zest, add the lemon juice to taste, and set aside. Note: If not using right away, refrigerate in a closed container.  This fig jam keeps for weeks, so if you like, make it well ahead of time.

Assembling the Fig Bars

  1. In a mixing bowl, crumble together the remaining dough with the reserved pecan and sugar mixture.
  2. Gently spread the fig jam on top of the baked crust.
  3. Sprinkle the dough mixture over the filling. The top will look crumbly.
  4. Bake until browned on top, about 25-35 minutes.
  5. Cool completely before cutting into bars 1-1/2 inches square.

Note:  The bars keep well for about a day or two.  They’ll get a bit too mushy and soggy after that.

Double Chocolate Banana Muffins

Because it’s been so hot this summer, my bananas stand very little chance of remaining in an “acceptable” range of yellow-green.  If you too are plagued by overripe bananas combined with a strong chocolate craving, bake up a batch of double chocolate banana bread.  The recipe is on a previous post, but instead of making a loaf, you can make muffins.  I like making mini muffins because they’re cute and perfectly bite sized.  The only changes to the recipe that you’ll need to make are to:

  • use mini or regular sized muffin liners, filled about 2/3 full with batter
  • bake for 15-20 minutes for mini muffins and 20-25 minutes for full sized muffins (don’t overbake or they’ll be dry)

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Crawfish Etouffee

I’ve had a recipe for crawfish etouffee on my “must make” list for 9 years (!!).   The recipe was on my cooking bucket list for so many years because I never knew where to find crawfish tails, but recently I found frozen ones at an Asian market (H mart).   The recipe for crawfish etouffee was from a friend of a friend, and it looked so simple that I thought that there must be more to this dish.  A quick google search yielded Emeril’s recipe which was very similar to the recipe I had.  So I combined the two recipes, and the results were delicious.IMG_6453[1]

Crawfish Etouffee

Makes 4-6 servings
(adapted from Emeril Lagasse and a friend’s recipe)

Ingredients

6 tablespoons of butter (3/4 stick) (do not substitute with oil)
2 large onions chopped (about 2 cups)
4-5 stalks celery chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large green pepper chopped (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound crawfish tails (I used frozen), thawed
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup water (I used chicken stock to make it more flavorful; seafood stock would have been even better, but I didn’t have that)
4 teaspoons cornstarch, flour, or other thickening agent (I like King Arthur Flour’s Signature Secrets)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons chopped green onions

Directions

  1. Thaw and lightly rinse the frozen crawfish.  Drain and lightly dry the crawfish, and set aside.
  2. Dissolve the cornstarch or flour in 1 cup of water or stock, and set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter.
  4. Add the onions, green pepper, and celery to the melted butter, and sauté until the vegetables are softened (about 10-12 minutes).  Add salt to taste.
  5. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the cayenne pepper, black pepper, and white pepper and stir to combine.
  7. Add the tomato sauce and bay leaves, and stir gently to combine.
  8. Add the cornstarch and water mixture.  Stir until the mixture thickens, and simmer for about  5 minutes.
  9. Add the crawfish to the vegetable mixture, and sauté until heated through.
  10. Stir in the green onions, and continue cooking for 2 minutes.
  11. Serve over steamed long grain rice.