Figalicious: Fig & Fennel Cake, Hold the Grappa!

Hi, I'm Stacey, and I'm a FIG-AHOLIC.

So now you know that I have an addition to figs.
Big deal, there are worse things one can be addicted to, like apples or something like that.

I am always searching for the best fig cake (I loved the fig cake I made last time with the olive oil) and will be making the big bundt w/ buttermilk and preserved figs soon......

This cake rivals up there with the excellent ones.

It is a delicious Venetian dessert made with polenta instead of flour, so the gluten free thing is nice for people who can't have wheat.
There is also no butter in this recipe.

The fennel seeds w/ the figs and cornmeal were a beautiful combination, just right served with some Vin Santo for dessert.

This is not a dessert for everyone.
It's almost like a firm bread pudding, because there is no flour and no egg whites. It was very special, it almost felt like we were transported to Venice for the evening. (I wish).

I will print the original recipe from Bon Appetit 2005, however I made some changes.

I substituted the grappa for cognac. Why? Because grappa tastes like lighter fluid to me (not that I have ever sampled lighter fluid) and it is also way too expensive to purchase just for one recipe. The cognac worked out just fine. Any good cognac will do, Hennessy, Courvossier or E&J works too. Don't leave it out.

I also added more figs than called for. Why only 6 figs? I added about 12 dried figs.

One last note: you have to work fast with this cake. The milk and cognac started to boil over and I freaked, but saved it (luckily I have a small kitchen and can just turn and reach for the pot!) in time. Also you have to do a lot of quick whisking.
Just warning you. But I promise it will be worth the effort.

Polenta & Fig Cake w/ Fennel & Pignoli Nuts (adapted from Bon Appetit)

4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar

2 cups of whole milk
1/4 cup grappa (I used cognac)
1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup polenta (or coarse cornmeal)

1/2 cup dried figs, chopped (I used about 12 figs)
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup of pine nuts
1 Tbsp fennel seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Butter an 8" cake pan with 2" sides liberally with melted butter, using a brush.

Beat egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl.

Bring milk, grappa or cognac & salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan on medium heat (be careful, the milk started to boil over).

Working quickly, whisk the hot milk & cognac into your bowl with the egg yolk/sugar mixture. Whisk so the eggs don't cook in the hot milk.
Return the contents of the bowl to the saucepan.

Whisk in polenta, and whisk over medium low heat until the polenta starts to thicken, about 5-7 minutes. Keep whisking!

Turn off heat and fold in figs, raisins, nuts, and fennel seeds. Pour into prepared cake pan and bake 40 minutes until golden brown and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool in pan about 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate.

This cake was best served warm.


Nic said…
Hi Stacey!
I really like figs too and this cake looks wonderful! Glad you used cognac, good choice.
Ciao Chow Linda said…
I'm having a hard time choosing between this and the other fig cake. Now you're going to confuse me even more with a THIRD fig cake? You need a 12-step program.
kat said…
Oh man I have to make one of your fig cakes, they look amazing
Vidya said…
Oh I've made a cake like this before! But mine had about 1 whole egg and a small amount of butter. I think I used figs as well, and almonds...I love it how the polenta is already cooked before you bake it so you get a really soft non-gritty cake.
LaDue & Crew said…
I have nothing here for breakfast today, and want to bite the screen right now! I have all the ingredients, thank goodness, so this may be my afternoon treat! Looks addictively delicious, Stacey!
Pam said…
Yum, yum, yum. This look so good!
Dewi said…
Ha ha ha, you are so funny.
Very delicious looking cake, I am sure my husband will love this. He loves Fig, and he's been asking me to plant another fig tree in the back yard. This is just remind me that I must go and look for one.
Dana said…
I wish I could go there with you, but I just can' Looks pretty though!
noble pig said…
I love figs too and it looks beautiful with the pansy there! Nice.
Colloquial Cook said…
Ha this cake is killing me with all its egg yolks :-)
Always double the amount of figs, that's what I like to hear.
lisaiscooking said…
Figs, polenta, pine nuts--sounds like a great cake. I like the idea of vin santo accompanying it too!
You're such a fig freak! Thats why I love ya!!
I saw you on Linda's blog! My husband adores figs so I'll be copyig this recipe...thanks!
SarahB said…
sta, you crack me up...will you make a cake when I come see the roses?
Yay for fig cake! I feel like this one would be a perfectly acceptable breakfast item.
i LOVE this... pretty and moist (that sounded dirty, but you get my point). i wonder if this could be the base for something savory?
Peter M said…
Nice one Stace! You'd freak if you had tree-ripened figs in Greece or'd be a fig junkie.
Maria Jette said…
Very interesting... I made a similar cake tonight, from Marcella Hazan's MORE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING, and was convinced I'd done something wrong, as it ended up so... dense, and... POLENTA-like! She calls it "Polenta Shortcake with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts," but I think the "shortcake" bit is really misleading. When you described yours as being like bread pudding, I thought, "Bingo." The Italian title is Torta Casereccia de Polenta (Homemade Polenta Cake). This one uses a cup of cornmeal, 2 c water (rather than milk), and another whole cup of flour, but just a single egg. Very hard to incorporate the flour-- I ended up adding more liquid (milk). Also, while it called for raisins and figs, I'm not such a big fig fan (and didn't have any on hand), so used apricots, which were fantastic. This recipe had a lot of fennel, too-- 2 tablespoons.

Anyhow, it talked about it being a "batter," but this was definitely a dough! Looks like yours was, too.

I loved the flavor, but the texture was strange... yet much like other oddly textured Italian cakes (torta rustica comes to mind). I guess the key is not to expect a French or English style cake.

If you'd like the full recipe, let me know: