Figs remind me of my grandmother. Don’t ask me why. Actually, you can ask me why, it’s a funny story! My cousin once related to me an anecdote about my grandmother, which occurred when she was studying in Israel for the year. My grandmother lived in Rechavia, and after a hot sweltering day out and about in Jerusalem my cousin and her friend stopped by to visit her. They walked in, all sticky and sweaty, dying for a drink. My grandmother took one look at them, ushered them into her cool apartment and said with enthusiasm, “How would you girls like a nice, ice-cold, juicy (add dramatic pause)...FIG! They tried to keep a straight face, I guess the last thing they expected to hear after the words “ice-cold” and “juicy” was a “fig”! But that was my grandmother, excitedly pushing the freshest fruits and vegetables as if they were candy!
My grandmother taught me how to tell if a fig was a nice, juicy one, how to split them open, how to inspect for worms (I know, gross, but gotta do it!). Back then, in Jerusalem, the roads were dotted with Arab women with boxes of freshly picked figs. Here in New York, the only time I see fresh figs is in the supermarket in the autumn, and they will always remind me of my grandmother, a”h. So when I came across some gorgeous-looking figs at the Whole Foods Market, I knew I had to buy them. I then set about searching for an interesting recipe in which to use them, and came across a simple fig cake from the New York Times. Of course, my grandmother would never have ruined them by baking them in a cake, but what can I say… The recipe also called for honey and that just screamed Rosh Hashanah to me, so I had to try it. Figs were always the new fruit we used for Rosh Hashanah, because they were available at that time of year. While it’s almost felt sacrilegious to use a fig before the holiday, I had to conduct a taste-test, and I’m glad I did! The cake came out gorgeous, and while figs may be an acquired taste for some, it will make a beautiful addition to your holiday table!
Almond and Fig Torte (adapted from the NYT)
4 tbsp butter or margarine, melted,
plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup ground, natural almonds
¼ cup sugar, plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
⅛ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp salt
3 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp honey
½ tsp almond extract
12 to 14 ripe figs, stems removed,
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or pie pan; set aside. (If you use a removable bottom, be sure to place the pan on a piece of foil, as the batter might leak.) In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter, honey and almond extract. Add almonds, 1/4 cup sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and beat for a minute until batter is just mixed. Pour batter into pan, then arrange fig halves cut-side up over the batter. Sprinkle figs with sugar and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until golden outside and dry at center when probed with a cake tester. Cool before serving.
By Rachel Berger