This unusual cake is lovely and moist, surprisingly light and tastes decidedly Italian, thanks to the combination of dried figs, toasted walnuts, aniseed and yeast (no need to prove/rise).
I found the recipe about 25 years ago but I’ve forgotten the source. Over the years, I’ve made it with regular and gluten-free flour and although I prefer it made with regular wheat flour, the gluten-free version is still delicious.
Serve it slightly warm or at room temp topped with a blob of crème fraîche and a few extra toasted walnuts – perfect with a nice afternoon cup of tea!
I prefer to use golden calimyrna figs rather than black mission figs but it’s up to you.
2/3 cup (160ml measure) of plain all-purpose flour, sifted
1 envelope (1/4oz – 7g) of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of aniseed or fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon of salt
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup (120ml measure) of sugar, plus 2 extra tablespoons
2 oz (57g) of unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 packed cup (240ml measure) of trimmed and chopped dried calimyrna figs
1/2 cup (120ml measure) of toasted walnuts, plus a few extra to serve
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
Toast the walnuts while you make the cake batter. Put them on a baking tray in the preheated oven for 9 minutes until lightly golden. Rub the skins off with a soft cloth or swirl them around over the sink in a fine mesh metal strainer. Chop them roughly and set aside.
For the cake: line the base of a 9 inch (23cm) diameter spring-form pan then oil and flour the pan – shake out the excess flour.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, salt and aniseed/fennel seed.
In a large bowl, whisk the 4 egg yolks and half a cup (120ml) of sugar until you have a pale, foamy bulk (about 3-4 minutes).
Gradually beat in the melted butter then the vanilla extract. Fold in the flour mixture followed by the chopped figs and walnuts. The batter will be very stiff.
Wash and dry your whisk, then in a separate large bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and gradually whisk in the 2 remaining tablespoons of sugar until the whites are stiff (but not dry).
In 4 batches and using a large metal spoon, fold the whites into the cake batter with a cutting motion to gradually lighten it. Make sure everything is well combined and pour it into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface.
Bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes. It’s ready when a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool it completely in the pan on a rack.
Best served at room temp with a good dollop of crème fraîche and scattered with few extra chopped toasted walnuts.