In Tangier, at the very edge of the casbah overlooking the strait, is a house called Dar Zero. An old property, with white, crenelated walls, this is where Samuel Pepys lived in 1683, during the English occupation of Tangier (1661-1684), when he was employed as a secretary to George Legge, Lord Dartmouth, who had been tasked with abandoning Tangier and destroying its fortifications. In Dar Zero, Pepys wrote sections of his famous diaries, often seated beneath the shade of a huge fig tree that continues to grow in the garden to this day…
Dar Zero is very much an inspiration for Dar Portuna, the grand house in An Echo of Scandal. So, in honour of Pepys and his fig tree, here’s a recipe that uses ripe, seasonal figs, alongside fresh fig leaves. It’s a riff on my favourite Smitten Kitchen strawberry cake. Fig leaves have a wonderful aroma, somewhere between floral vanilla, coconut and tobacco. Here, they’re made into a syrup and mixed with whipped cream, to create a gentle, fragrant indulgent pudding that’s perfect to eat as the last golden rays of summer sink into autumn.
Fig Cake with Fig Leaf Cream
For the cake:
- 100g butter, softened
- 190g golden caster sugar
- 1 large egg
- 190g self-raising flour
- 120ml milk
- 1 tsp of vanilla bean extract
- 2-3 fresh figs (if you can’t find fresh you can used tinned, or dried figs soaked in a little water to plump them up a bit)
- 1 tbsp of caster sugar
For the syrup and cream:
- 2-3 fresh fig leaves
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 250ml double or whipping cream
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350/gas mark 4. Grease or line a 10in pie dish, or a 9in springform cake tin.
- Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
- Add the egg, along with a tablespoon of flour to stop the mixture from splitting and beat in.
- Stir in the milk and vanilla extract.
- Gently fold in the remaining flour until no streaks remain.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin.
- Cut the figs into halves or quarters, depending on size, removing any woody stems, then press gently into the surface of the cake at regular intervals.
- Sprinkle the surface with the remaining sugar, so the fruit turns jammy.
- Bake for 10 minutes before turning down the heat to 165C/325F/gas mark 3. Bake for another 35-40 minutes, or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanish.
The syrup and cream:
- Rinse the fig leaves, pat dry, and cut off any remaining stalk. Place them under the grill for a minute or two, keeping a close eye on them and turning when necessary: you want them to be gently toasted/browned but not burned. This releases the scent of the fig leaves.
- Place 2 tbsp of caster sugar in a pan along with around 8 tbsp of water and the fig leaves (don’t worry if they crumble).
- Press the fig leaves into water and stir about until the sugar has dissolved.
- Bring to a gentle boil for 3-4 minutes, until the water starts to reduce to a syrup.
- Leave to cool, before straining through a tea strainer or muslin into a jug.
- Spoon 2-3 tbsp of syrup over the cake while it is still warm, so that it soaks in.
- Pour the double cream into a clean bowl.
- When the syrup is completely cool, stir 4 tbsp (or more, to taste) into the cream, then whip until soft peaks form.
- Serve the cake cut into wedges, with a dollop of fig leaf cream alongside.
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