It gets a little tricky, reinventing a cherished recipe from a beloved, deceased grandmother. There's the nagging guilt, a feeling that you're trampling on sacred ground, thinking you can somehow improve the already wonderful. But there it was, a cake that I loved, that caused me a few problems when I followed the recipe - a fig cake so lusciously moist and flavorful that it never lasted more than a day in my household.
So what was the problem with that? Well, it started with the figs. My grandmother would preserve figs every summer and then use them in this cake. The recipe called for a full 16 ounces, coarsely mashed. I inherited two jars of her last batch and made the beloved cake for my family, my first time baking it. What I discovered was that preserved figs are really, really sticky, which translated to them making the cake stick to the pan. I had liberally greased and floured every inch of that pan and the resulting cake tasted heavenly, but looked like it had been mauled by wild beasts. Fine for family, not so fine if I wanted to serve anyone else. Then there was the matter of spices. The original recipe called only for cinnamon, but I wanted a little nutmeg thrown in there, too. The last ingredient substitution was a no brainer - I decided to use buttermilk instead of whole milk with a teaspoon of vinegar.
The decisions unfolded organically from there. My first thought was that I'd preserve the figs from the tree in our courtyard and keep them for the cake. I thought I'd just cut them up into smaller pieces and see if that helped. Unfortunately, we had an unusual drought over the summer and the figs never fully ripened. I checked with farmers locally and couldn't find enough to work with. With that option out the window, I resorted to store bought fig preserves. They made a difference in how the cake came out of the pan, but the effects (texture and moistness) seemed to vary according to the brand I used and the amount.
Many cakes later, I finally found the combination I loved. Hands down, Sclafani Abruzzo Fig preserves yield the cake with the best texture and aesthetic appearance, and I only need about half of what the original recipe calls for. While I appreciate seasonal bounty, I'm not ashamed to admit that I have a stack of Sclafani preserves waiting in the pantry, ready to satisfy our cravings. And though my grandmother would never have admitted it, I think she would be pleased as well.
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 dash salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
Approximately 1 cup fig preserves (Sclafani fig preserves come in a 12.35 oz. jar)
1 cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt or tube pan. (I use solid shortening.)
2. Mix sugar, oil, and eggs until well blended (if using a standing mixer, mix on medium speed).
3. In another bowl, combine dry ingredients, then add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Mix well.
4. Fold in fig preserves and chopped pecans.
5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs. Let the cake rest in the pan for 15 or 20 minutes. Using the tip of a knife, gently loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and invert on a wire rack to finish cooling.