Thursday, November 8, 2012

Upside Down Roman Fig Cake by Lucy Burdette

LUCY BURDETTE: The good news last week was that when our flight was cancelled by the storm, we were in Rome. The bad news is that if you're worried about your home and your pets and your friends and family, it doesn't matter how great the place is. Once we learned that our house was still standing, we tried to make the best of enjoying the city. Romans do amazing things with desserts--look at these cakes that we found in the window of a little bakery. 
When I met with my writers group this summer, the host served cappuccino and fresh figs--he and his wife have a strong Italian heritage. Oh my, they were delicious--simply cut in half and eaten alone. The only figs we ate growing up were in Fig Newtons--one of my dad's favorite cookies but not mine! When I lived in Gainesville, FL, for four years in a former life, my ex and I had an enormous fig tree in our back yard. The criminal fact is: I don't remember eating them or cooking with them. I would kill for that tree now!

So when I saw a small box of fresh figs in our local store, Bishop's Orchards, I could not resist trying to create something the Romans might make. I surfed around looking for the right recipe and found one  I liked in Yummly. I tweaked away, cutting some sugar, and changing full fat milk to 1%, and adding white whole wheat flour. (Let's not kid ourselves, it still has a lot of butter in it. But for a special treat, delicious!)

Ingredients for Upside Down Fig Cake

12-14 or so fresh figs (mine came in a half-pint container)
12 Tbsp butter, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 cup 1% milk

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9 inch cake pan, bottom and sides. (I used some of the butter above, figuring there's plenty in the recipe already!) Cut a piece of parchment paper to the size of the pan, put it in the bottom and butter that too.

Wash the figs. Cut off the stems and cut them in half lengthwise.

Melt 4 oz of butter in a small pan. Add the honey and brown sugar and heat until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and then place the figs into the pan, cut side down. You can make whatever design you choose, circles seems to be traditional. And I cut some of the figs into quarters at the end to fit them all in.

Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients in one bowl and measure milk into a glass measuring cup. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar and vanilla with a mixer until they are light in color. Add the eggs  one at a time, beating after each. On low speed, add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk until everything is mixed nicely. 

Pour the batter over the figs and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Let the cake rest on a rack for an hour. Then place your serving  plate over the top and gently invert the cake onto the platter. Mine slid out beautifully, leaving the parchment paper in the pan.

Serve warm, maybe with ice cream or whipped cream, if you really need to gild the lily:). We found that it was utterly delicious on its own. 

And here's hoping that everyone who was left cold, dark, or even homeless by Sandy will soon be back in their homes, eating cake!

Lucy Burdette is the author of the Key West food critic mysteries, most recently DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. You can read more about the books at her website, or follow her on twitter, or like her on facebook!


  1. Hi Lucy, I love your recipe. I’m going to try this in this weekend. Because these photos encouraging me to do it. It looks so tasty. But I have a question. Its bit difficult to find vanilla here. So is there anything else I can put instead of vanilla? And if I do so will it affect to the taste of this?

  2. That’s lovely, I would definitely try this tomorrow. I think most of the times vanilla makes the cake taste good and I don’t have any suggestions for it.

  3. This cake sounds deliciously decadent. I can just hear Eve saying, "Here Adam, have some. It's delicious. And you know I think I'll make me a skirt out of those leaves too."

  4. I have a hard time finding figs down here (unless I trek to one of the upscale markets in the big city), but I love them so. This is a great way to make a few figs go a long way. thanks for the recipe!

  5. I love figs! My Mamaw had a fig tree in her yard in Texarkana Arkansas and she would make the most fabulous preserved figs. Her biscuits with butter and a whole preserved fig on top was definitely a step closer to Heaven! The second best figs I have eaten were on a Mediterranean cruise my husband, my mom and I took 3 years ago. One of our side trips was into Croatia and we had lunch at a country restaurant. A farmer was selling dried figs from trees behind the restaurant. My mom and I both bought a bag of the figs. I ate all of mine, then I tried to get into hers but she wouldn't share! I've tried to find the variety of figs we had but haven't had any luck. I am definitely going to have to try your fig cake. It sounds fabulous!

  6. Ellicia, funny, funny--I think you're right! I know Wendy, you don't see figs around too often in CT either. That's why I lust for that big old tree....

  7. When we lived in the Berkeley area we had friends who had a fig tree in their sheltered yard. We had only a lemon tree in back, and an apple tree on the side (that I usually forgot about).

    I've never tried cooking with figs, but this sounds delicious. Don't you love it when you find something unexpected and get inspired?

  8. Thanks Judy, so mean that your mom wouldn't share! The trip we just took stopped several places in Croatia and we did get some marvelous figs in Split.

    Sheila, yes! And sometimes it takes someone else to point out how delicious something might be...

  9. I can only describe fresh figs as orgasmic. I adore them. The season is short and they don't travel well, so when I find them here in Rome--and that won't be possible until next summer--I'll give this cake a whirl.

    1. I should have thought of your Roman connection--you could maybe have given us advice on where to eat dinner:)

  10. This does sound yummy. Wonder what it would be like out of season with plumped dried figs? Not as pretty, but the taste would be nice, I think.

    1. That might work Libby. I was thinking it would work with peaches too, or good old-fashioned pineapple. Though not as elegant as figs....

  11. My grandparents always had figs (they were Italian on that side. I adore them. I must try this when I can find some fresh ones. The dried ones are so...dry and hard!

  12. I love cakes like this. It's right up my alley, Lucy. Thanks for traveling all the way to Rome to be inspired!

    ~ Krista

  13. Lucy, I adore figs and this post is adorable! The pix of the cutey cakes are so fun. Your pic is fabulous. Sharing. :)

    ~Daryl aka Avery

  14. The Roman Upside Down Cake is in the oven right now! Went to the grocery store today and they had fresh figs - yum. I usually cut them in half, wrap a strip of proscuitto around them, brush with olive oil and roast at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Great appetizer. Today they will be a dessert; can't wait for the cake to be done. Trying not to eat meat so this will be a wonderful new way to enjoy figs! Thanks so much.

  15. Pooh, that appetizer sounds divine! Hope you love the cake. I think it would be an excellent substitute for meat:).