About 10 years ago, I brought a group of Catholic High School teachers to Israel for a program that I created. Among the many wonderful things that we did during that visit was to travel to the Catholic Maronite Palestinian village of Fassuta on the Lebanon border in the Upper Galilee. We were given a tour of the village by the then mayor, who seemed to know everyone there. We were unable to move more than a few feet without someone greeting us and inviting us in for fruit or coffee or juice. One older woman had a small but beautiful garden with fig trees and grapes. We happened to be there at the exact moment of fig ripeness perfection and she immediately started plucking these plump beauties right off of the tree and passing them around. I probably ate six or eight of them before I had to cry “uncle.” I have been spoiled for fresh figs ever since and have never been able to find any in my market that even come close to tasting like those figs from a garden in Fassuta.
However, I was watching a video from POV Italian Cooking about making fig bread from slightly over-ripe fresh figs and decided that the figs that I could find in my market would probably work for this recipe. I made a couple of small changes, including adding toasted walnuts and the result is an AMAZING “tea” cake. If I close my eyes, it can make me conjure up that beautiful garden in the Galilee.
Fresh Fig and Walnut Bread from POV Italian Cooking and tweaked by me
Yield: One 9 x 5 inch loaf
1 pint (2 cups) fresh, ripe figs
1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly whisked with the vanilla
1 cup plus 2 rounded Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour (or substitute 1/4 cup for whole wheat flour)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 packet Lievito Pane Degli Angeli OR 1.5 teaspoons baking soda plus 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 Tablespoon cognac (Even though there is vanilla in the Lievito Pane degli Angeli, I like to add additional vanilla.)
1 cup toasted and coarsely broken walnuts
- Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. with the rack in the center. Lavishly butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (preferably non-stick) and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper which you then also butter. Pour 2 rounded Tablespoons of granulated sugar into the bottom. Carefully angle and tap the pan so that the sugar coats the bottom and sides. This gives a lovely sugary crust to the outside of the bread.
- Cut off the bottom and stem of each fig. Split the fig into quarters and cut the quarters into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on the size of the fig. Place in a bowl and with the back of a fork, slightly mash the figs. Take 2 tablespoons of the flour you will measure out and toss it with the figs. This will prevent the fig pieces from all falling to the bottom. Set aside.
- In a standing mixer (or by hand) cream the softened butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix through.
- In a medium bowl, measure out the flour, salt and Lievito Pane degli Angeli or the baking soda and stir through to mix.
- In 2 or 3 additions, mix the dry ingredients with the butter, sugar and egg mixture until you have a fairly thick batter. Fold through the walnuts and figs by hand. Don’t worry too much about smushing the figs, although try not to over-do it!
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is a lovely dark brown and the smell is intoxicating. And yes, when a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean! Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 20 minutes on a cooling rack. By then you should be able to handle the pan with your bare hands. Run a thin spatula or knife around the edges of the pan. Turn the bread out onto the rack, remove the parchment and allow it to cool completely (if you can wait that long.) The bread is then ready to eat.