Friday, 3 September 2010

Upside-down Figgy Cake

Sürreya's rooftop with Lesbos behind
Those wonderful figs
On my last day in the village,the island of Lesbos looked tantalizingly close, the killer humidity that has characterized this summer dissipated, and the sea a sparkling blue. On Sürreya’s roof opposite I could see their figs drying in the hot sun in anticipation of those colder days when a sweet bite doesn’t come amiss. The trees are all laden with them. I have decided that figs are the Jimmy Choos of fruit: luscious and desirable. We have a fig tree in our own garden: it arrived without permission and grew and grew. The trouble was, its figs were not my Jimmy Choos. So ingeniously, Mehmet and my husband arranged to have a superior variety grafted on. The surprise gift was that two different types of fig were inadvertently grafted so this year our tree has cleverly presented us with both : creamy light green ones as well as little sweet purplish ones. They are mouth-watering. This is the best way to eat them: picked straight from the tree and popped into your mouth. Be careful while picking as the leaves can give you an itchy rash – as they did me.

Fresh figs don’t have a long shelf-life, however. If you put them in the fridge, be warned: your plump little balls of sublime sweetness will shrivel somewhat.Your family won’t want to eat them. If you are buying from your local fruitseller, I recommend eating them the same day. The larger dark purple ones that we see in Istanbul are a little sturdier and after washing, you may like to peel them before eating.

In Turkey figs are usually eaten fresh or dried. However, I am now going to give you a fantastic cooked figgy recipe that I recommend you make without more ado. It comes from my friend Carol, an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer who came to Turkey in the 1960s. She now lives permanently in a neighbouring village. She is a great cook and remembers those early days in Turkey without a proper oven when cooking was achieved in something called a ‘maraton’. Apparently this was a square-shaped metal box with vents on the sides and a hole at the bottom. What you did was put it on a gas burner – hard to imagine but all sorts of dishes were successfully cooked in it, including cakes! Talking about ovens, my husband told me that with his very first salary, way back, that’s exactly what he bought his mother: a real oven. Anyway, Carol served us this Figgy Cake, warm, with çay  (pron: chai, meaning 'tea'), in her little garden and I rushed to replicate it once I got back to Istanbul with those figs from our tree. Suffice it to say that the finished product lasted barely 2 days in our household..

Everything ready to go for the upside-down version
This recipe is what Carol calls ‘a very forgiving recipe’ . Personally, I think it is a wonderful recipe. It is actually called Apricot Kuchen but I am renaming it ‘Carol’s 2-Way Figgy Cake’. It can be adapted to peaches, nectarines, cherries, raspberries, as well as figs. Whatever you want, really. 8 servings.

Figgy Cake Rightway-Up

Preheat oven to 350F/170F. Grease a 9’’x2’’ round baking pan.


1 cup flour

1tbsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

½ cup soft unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs – (remember to take them out of the fridge beforehand so they are at room temperature)

About 6-8 small figs, washed and halved or 2 cups sliced peeled peaches etc

¼ cup coarsely chopped nuts eg walnuts (optional)


1. Mix together first 3 ingredients in medium-sized bowl.

2. In large bowl, beat the butter and the sugar till light and fluffy (3 – 4 mins).

3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Stir in flour mixture till just incorporated. Scrape batter into pan and spread evenly.

5. Scatter fruit on top. Add nuts if using.

6. Combine and sprinkle 1tbsp sugar and ¼ tbsp ground cinnamon over fruit.

Bake till golden brown and a wooden toothpick comes out clean (about 40 mins). Cool slightly before turning out onto a baking rack.

The halved figs placed in the pan
on top of the butter and sugar

A deliciously moist cake!

Now here is Carol’s ingenious variation which makes it indeed Figgy Upside-down Cake:

1.Melt 2 tbsp butter in bottom of pan (simply put in the oven while it is heating up).

2. Sprinkle 2-3 tbsp granulated sugar on the bottom.

3. Then arrange the fresh fruit, halved, cut side down, and spoon the batter made exactly as above, on top and bake in the pre-heated oven as before.


After taking out of the oven, let the cake rest in the pan for 10 mins and then invert on a plate. Let cool with the cake pan as a cover. This is obviously for the upside-down version. The fruit won’t stick to the pan.

Serve with icecream.

You will love it!