Recipe Corner: Fresh Fig Layer Cake with Caramel Icing (Photo and recipe courtesy of Monica Kass Rogers)


“Everyone has a childhood memory of a special recipe eaten at home, at grandma’s house or at a restaurant, that made a lasting and permanent impression.  Forever after, the thought of that dish lingers, ready to be triggered by a related sight, smell, or taste, long after we enjoyed the original preparation. The point is, we all have special recipes we’ve loved and lost,” says author, home cook, editor and photographer Monica Kass Rogers. She is the author of Lost Recipes Found, the delightful food blog that exists to celebrate them.  Before it was a food blog, Monica began Lost Recipes Found as a column for the Chicago Tribune, one of the many publications she’s written for over the last 30 years.

“I’d been writing for the food section of the Chicago Tribune, and I kept thinking about French novelist Marcel Proust and his childhood memory of a madeleine cookie.  Even the scent of something similar put Proust back in connection with so many other lovely memories. I thought it would be fun to create a column about dishes that do that for all of us.”  Eventually the newspaper column became Monica’s blog, and as she prepared, styled and photographed the recipes for each story, her professional photography business took off as well.

One of the recipes she developed is connected to her own childhood food memories, and those from her mother. “My mom,” says Monica, “grew up eating fresh figs from a large, spreading fig tree that grew by her house in Southern Texas.  She spoke of that tree, the cool of its shade, the scent and flavor of its fruit, and passed that fondness down to me. I love fresh figs, the green ones, and the black ones, eaten right out of hand, or sliced and served with prosciutto.  But when I have a lot of figs, I make them into preserves, so good on toast, brioche, or baked into this very moist cake. It has two layers and is glazed with a caramel icing.  The preserves used in this cake also make the perfect filling for my Not-Newton homemade fig bars, and can also be used in the lovely single-layer version of the fig cake.”

Among the oldest fruits consumed by humans, figs tell a complex and symbolic story in culinary history.  Figs sweetened all types of dessert before the widespread use of sugar, and still appear as the main ingredient in dishes and desserts.  Figs are most flavorful at room temperature.  They are rich in nutrients while being relatively low in calories, making them an ideal addition to a healthy diet.  Figs are great in jams, cookies, muffins, cakes, breads, preserves, in salads with sweet, tangy dressings, served simply with an added ingredient or two as an appetizer, and, of course, incorporated into a beautiful dessert like this one from Monica Kass Rogers.



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Fig Preserves:

6 cups fresh, whole figs

2 tablespoons baking soda

3 cups water

3 cups sugar

1 fresh lemon, seeds, peel and pith removed

Topics: Cakes, Figs

Fresh Fig Cake:

3/4 cup softened butter

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1/2 cup milk

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups fig preserves (recipe above)


Caramel Icing:

3/4 stick unsalted butter

3/4 cup lightly-packed brown sugar (or 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 grated cone of piloncillo sugar)*

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 to 3 cups sifted powdered sugar



Make preserves: Snip stem ends from figs and discard. Rinse trimmed figs in colander. Mix baking soda into 1/2 gallon cold water in a large pot.  Place figs in the pot and swirl around. Drain figs in colander and rinse with fresh water. Combine figs, sugar, water and lemon in soup pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat, until fig mixture reaches desired thickness — about 2½ to 3 hours. NOTE: Monica uses a hand-held immersion blender at the end of cooking the preserves to blend any remaining pieces of lemon or fig. This recipe will use most of the preserves. Place the rest in a jar and refrigerate to mix into yogurt or spread on toast later. The preserves will keep for one month to 6 weeks in the refrigerator; 6 months in the freezer.

Make cake: Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add milk. With mixer on low, slowly add flour followed by dissolved baking soda. Beat in vanilla. Add fig preserves and beat until just blended. If using a stand mixer, be sure to scrape sides and bottom of bowl to ensure even mixing.  Pour batter into two, 8 1/2-inch cake pans you have lined with parchment circles and greased. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until cake layers spring back when touched in the center, and are deep golden brown.  Cakes will flatten and pull away from sides of baking pans as they cool.

Make caramel icing: In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, melt butter. Add brown sugar and heat over low heat for 2 minutes, whisking. Stir in salt. Add cream and whisk until boiling. Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla. Sift in powdered sugar, whisking hard to incorporate until smooth and creamy.

Assemble cake: Place bottom layer on serving plate. Pour a bit of icing on layer. Top with second layer and pour more icing over. It should spread and drip over the sides of the cake. To set, place cake in the fridge. Icing will set up quickly — you may have some left, it is delicious with sliced apples.

Serves 8.

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