For reasons that are likely attributable to the California drought, the first figs appeared so early this year that I missed them entirely. This is the third season in a row that they have been ready in late April rather than late May and June. We’re now into the second round of production and I'm finding a good supply.
Figs originated in ancient Arabia and Mesopatamia and were a much sought after symbol of abundance. The Spanish introduced them to the New World and I'm so very glad they did. I love homemade Fig Newtons, Fig & Oatmeal Chocolate Bars, galettes, figs in chocolate spice cake and Fig Swirl Ice Cream. I've even made fig jam and sandwiched it between blue cheese cookies. And one of my favorite seasonal desserts is a Provençal Sundae, coffee ice cream served with an unusual fig compote.
If you love figs like I do, this is a very simple and delicious way to savor their beauty: baked upside down in a brown sugar caramelized topping over a wonderfully moist and flavorful cake. The simplicity of the cake allows the figs to shine but the cake itself is worthy of your attention. Buttermilk really lends a beautiful flavor and tenderness. That's because it's the acidity in buttermilk that works to tenderize cakes by breaking down the long strands of gluten developed in the mixing process. And since it works so well with baking soda, it's a great leavener that produces a light crumb. I know that a lot of bakers are now often substituting yogurt for the dairy in cakes but I really love the difference buttermilk makes here, so I encourage you to go with the real thing.
This cake makes a great dessert or a nice weekend indulgence for your brunch table. Figs will be with us through the beginning of fall. Scoop them up!
- "Room temperature" butter means the chill has been take off and it's pliable but not soft to the touch. It should not be oily or squishy but should give just a bit when you press a finger into the surface.
- Cream butter and sugar on medium speed to avoid breaking the fragile air bubbles you’re trying to create. This is the stage where the texture and crumb are being developed.
- A quick way to bring eggs to room temperature is to place them in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. Cold eggs will impact the volume of the cake.
- For cake mixing, always add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next. The batter is ready for the second egg when it no longer has a shiny slick on the surface.
- Scraping down the bowl of your mixer is crucial to thoroughly emulsifying the butter and egg mixture and then fully integrating all of the remaining ingredients. It may seem like a bother but it’s what helps to build the structure of your cake.
- I added a splash of port to the warm honey I used to glaze the figs as the cake is cooling.
- Other things you can do with buttermilk: Buttermilk Biscuits, Blackberry Cobbler, Chocolate Almond Raspberry Cake, Café Beaujolais Coffee Cake, Blueberry Lemon Cornmeal Cake, Buttermilk Bran Muffins.
Upside Down Fig Cake
1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) butter, melted
1/4 C + 1 T (2 1/4 oz) brown sugar, packed
12 (12 oz) fresh figs
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (4 1/2 oz) sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup (4 oz) buttermilk @ room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons honey for glazing
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9” x 2” cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.
For the cake topping, melt the 1 1/2 oz butter and pour into the prepared pan, tilting to distribute evenly across the parchment surface. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the melted butter and press to absorb. Cut the stems from the figs and slice in half. Arrange them cut side down on top of the butter and brown sugar mixture in any pattern you wish. Set aside.
For the cake batter, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as you go. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with half the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until the batter is smooth, scraping down the bowl throughout to be sure the mixture is fully emulsified and blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and gently spread it to the edges of the pan, being careful not to dislodge the figs.
Bake until a tester inserted in the center of comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes. Run a thin bladed knife around the edges and invert the cake. Gently peel off the parchment and cool completely. Warm the honey and glaze the figs.