Backyard Fig Cake
24 whole figs, fresh or dried
For the syrup
1/3 cup espresso or strong brewed coffee
3 tablespoons brandy
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the sponge cake
6 eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
For the filling and glaze
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/2 cup fig or strawberry jam, melted
To make the syrup
1. (If dried figs are used, trim off the tough end of the stem and split them in half lengthwise.) Combine the coffee, brandy, sugar and vanilla for the syrup and stir in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. (If using dried figs, put them in the saucepan, cover and simmer until they are tender, about 15 minutes; allow them to cool in the syrup.)
To make the sponge cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter an 11-by-9-inch jellyroll pan or spray it with nonstick spray; line the bottom of the pan with baker's parchment. In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat with a wire whisk until smooth. Whisk in the butter and vanilla extract.
2. In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt, preferably with an electric mixer, until they hold soft peaks, then stream in the other 1/2 cup of sugar gradually, beating until the egg whites are quite stiff. Fold a third of the egg whites and 1/2 cup of the flour into the yolk mixture, stirring just until the egg whites are barely incorporated. Add another third of the egg whites and the other 1/2 cup of flour and fold in. Fold in the remaining egg whites with a rubber spatula until it is fairly smooth.
3. Transfer the batter to the jellyroll pan and bake until the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center, about 20 minutes. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack.
To make the filling, glaze
1. Whip the cream cheese with the powdered sugar until it is smooth. In a separate bowl, whip the chilled cream until it is stiff, then stir in the vanilla extract and fold the whipped cream into the cream-cheese mixture. Pile the filling into a large Ziploc bag and snip off a corner of the bag to create a pastry bag.
To assemble and finish the cake
1. Soak the cake with the syrup then spread the cream-cheese filling on top. Arrange the figs, cut side up, on top of the frosting and brush the figs, if desired, with the jam.
Pairs Well With
© Greg Atkinson, 2011
Coffee-soaked sponge cake, figs and cream cheese filling make this a rich dessert suitable for a special occasion, but the unpretentious assembly makes it even more appropriate for a backyard gathering.
Fresh figs were the inspiration, but in a pinch, dried figs, reconstituted in the coffee syrup, can be substituted for fresh.