Saturday 8 September 2007

A startling confession

Prior to today, I have ever eaten a fresh fig. There I've said it. While I've certainly eaten the dried version - in the form of mo far kor, a Chinese snack that is essentially strips of dried fig coated with sugar - I've never touched a fresh one before. The reason for my going out to the supermarket today then and buying two packs of fresh figs is none other than Sugar High Friday #35, hosted by Ivonne, the theme of which is the beautiful fig.

Having never had a fig before, I wasn't quite sure what I was going to make with them. Thankfully the 3 or 4 cookbooks that I leafed through served up no less than 20 odd recipes involving figs. Many of them sounded delicious including fig clafouti, fig and raspberry pie, fig and almond galette, but I settled on a humble pound cake made with fresh figs. Reason being that as I was still new to figs, I wanted something simple that would showcase its flavour.

Given it was my first time handling figs, I was quite surprised to discover that they were extremely soft and delicate. For some reason, perhaps its dark skin, I had assumed they would be hard and that only the inside would be edible. As I was chopping up the figs to make the pound cake filling, I couldn't help but pop a piece into my mouth. It was soft, juicy and incredibly sweet. One piece turned into two which turned into three and it took much willpower to refrain from eating the rest of the chopped figs, else there would have been none left for the cake.

I popped the cake into the oven an hour before dinner and throughout our meal, I could only think of one thing - freshly baked pound cake for dessert. You're probably thinking that pound cake is not really an after-dinner type of dessert and I guess that's true. Its generally more of a tea time or even breakfast cake. Still, I think that it can be dressed up with a scoop of vanilla or coconut ice cream and hold its own at the dinner table. I, however, opted to eat it plain.

It was absolutely delish. The pound cake was moist, crumbly and buttery and the figs provided additional sweetness and texture. I couldn't help it, I had to have seconds and as suggested by the book, I'm looking forward to trying it with some jam tomorrow for breakfast.

Fresh Fig Pound Cake
From The Essential Baker

1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened (for buttering pan)
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1/2 pound fresh figs (3 to 4 large), rinsed and dried
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 oz unsalted butter, softened
1 cup superfine sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
3 tbsp milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Use your fingertips or a paper towel to butter the inside of a loaf pan. Dust the inside of the pan with the all-purpose flour. Shake and tilt the pan to coat then turn the pan over the sink and tap out the excess flour.

Cut off the stems of the figs, then cut them in half vertically. Cut each half verticially in half again, then cut each quarter into small pieces, placing them into a small bowl.

Sift together the cake flour and baking powder. Add the salt and toss to blend well. Take 2 tablespoons of this mixture and toss with the fig pieces to coat them completely.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Use the flat beater attachment to beat the butter on medium speed until it is fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, and cream together well. Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Adjust the mixer speed to medium-low. One at a time, add the eggs to the butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. The eggs will sit on top of the butter mixture, so stop after each addition and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to help mix evenly.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla. Add to the butter mixture and blend well. Turn the mixture speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 stages, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add the fig pieces and mix to distribute evenly.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 to 15 minutes, until the cake is light golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Use a flexible-blade spatula or thin-bladed sharp knife to run around the outer edges to loosen the cake from the pan. Invert the pan over the cooling rack or a serving plate and gently pull the pan away from the cake.

Makes one 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf cake

Better late than never

All through summer, M and I have been watching, with some envy, our downstairs neighbours having barbecue parties. You see, our apartment in London has no access to the garden even though it looks out onto it. The garden belongs solely to the tenants of the basement flat, which is fair I suppose - if you have to live in the basement, it makes sense that you're compensated with a nice garden you can use. Still, there have been times where I've wished that I could also fire up a grill and put on some juicy steaks or hamburgers.

This week for dinner then I finally decided to make use of my grill pan, which I have to admit hasn't really seen that much action this summer. Given that's its now September and summer is over, its a little on the late side, but hey, better late than never. My meat of choice was chicken which I skewered with zucchini and red peppers. I served these skewers with a hoisin barbecue sauce which I found on this site.

I have to say that even though a grill pan is not exactly the real thing, it still produced a nice smoky flavour with the requisite grill markings on the food. So until M and I get a flat with a garden, I'm guessing the grill pan is going to get a lot more use!

Hoisin Barbecue Sauce

From Food and Wine

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
3 tablespoons sake or dry sherry
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan and cook the garlic over moderately low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sake, ketchup and rice vinegar and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Let cool and serve.

The hoisin barbecue sauce can be refrigerated for 2 days.