Fresh Fig-Nut Loaf With Streusel Topping. Photos by Cyndi Bemel

Figs add richness to holiday sweets


Traditionally during Rosh Hashanah, foods sweetened with honey are eaten to symbolize the wish for a sweet and happy year ahead. But at my family’s holiday dinner, we like to supplement them with something equally nectarous: fresh figs.

One of the seven species of fruits and grains named in the Bible, figs offer distinctive sweetness to many recipes and fit perfectly into the New Year’s menu. California dried figs are plentiful all year round, but fresh figs also are available at this time of the year. (I like to get mine from a tree in my son Zeke’s backyard.) They add a rich source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and are versatile enough to try in salads, main courses and desserts. 

These four recipes are easy to make, and each is a little different from the way you may have enjoyed figs previously. Delicious, fresh fig bread can be whipped up in a few minutes, and it has a nice chewy texture. Served in thin slices, it is especially good with fruit or cheese. Serve for breakfast topped with orange marmalade.

Israeli-style stuffed figs with a chocolate-nut filling are a gourmet delight and they can take the place of a tray of pastries. Make a few extra to give to dinner guests to take home, or wrap them in a box or basket to bring when you are invited to dinner on Rosh Hashanah.

The Italian Fig Cake is inspired by the famous panforte, a delicious confection that originated in Siena, Italy. Rich, dense and chewy, the ingredients include dried figs, nuts, honey, spices and an assortment of other dried fruits. It keeps well in tins and is another good choice to bring as a gift from your kitchen.

As a bonus, serve fresh figs with homemade ricotta cheese and honey. The recipe for fresh ricotta takes just a short time to make — as long as it takes to boil milk — and much longer to enjoy!

FRESH FIG-NUT LOAF WITH STREUSEL TOPPING

– Streusel Topping (recipe follows)
– 1/2 cup melted, unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup finely ground walnuts or pecans
– 2 cups sugar
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– 2 teaspoons baking soda
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup unsalted butter, cut in pieces
– 2 cups toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans
– 2 cups (about 8 large figs) peeled and mashed fresh figs
– 4 eggs
– 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare Streusel Topping; set aside.

Brush 4 3-by-7-by-2-inch loaf pans generously with melted butter; sprinkle them with ground nuts and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, blend the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and blend until crumbly. Add the chopped walnuts and mix well. 

In a medium bowl, beat the figs, eggs and milk together. Pour the fig mixture into the flour mixture all at once. Stir gently just until all the dry ingredients are moistened; do not over-stir.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pans. Sprinkle each loaf with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Streusel Topping. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the loaves begin to come away from the sides of the pans.

Makes 4 loaves.

STREUSEL TOPPING

– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup flour
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/4 cup unsalted butter
– 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

In a food processor or large bowl of an electric mixer, blend together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter just until crumbly; do not over-mix. Stir in the chopped walnuts. Cover and set aside.

Makes about 1 cup. 

ITALIAN FIG CAKE (PANFORTE)

– 8 ounces dried figs
– 1 cup golden raisins
– 1 cup dried apples
– Grated peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon
– 1/2 cup flour
– 1/4 cup cocoa
– 2 teaspoons cinnamon
– 1/8 teaspoon mace
– 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
– 3/4 cup honey
– 1/2 cup sugar
– Juice of 1 orange
– 1 1/2 cups whole toasted almonds
– 1 1/2 cups whole toasted filberts
– 1/2 cup powdered sugar

 Preheat oven to 300 F.

Place figs, raisins, dried apples, orange and lemon peel in a food processor and blend until finely chopped, or place in chopping bowl and chop until fine. Transfer fruit mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Sift together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, mace and pepper. Add to dried fruit mixture and mix well.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the honey, sugar and orange juice until sugar dissolves. Carefully pour hot liquid into dried fruit mixture. Add nuts and stir well.

Line  an 8- or 9-inch round baking pan with parchment or wax paper and spoon in mixture. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until cake browns around the edges and paper comes away from the pan. (Cake will be sticky on top.)

Cool in pan for 10 minutes.

Dust a 12-inch square of foil with 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Turn cake upside down onto prepared foil. Peel off paper used to line pan and invert onto cake plate. Before serving, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar.

Makes about 10 servings.

ISRAELI STUFFED FIGS

– 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated
– 1 cup ground almonds
– 24 large dried California figs
– 24 toasted whole almonds

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, combine chocolate and ground almonds; set aside.

Using scissors or a knife, remove the stems from the figs. Make a deep depression  in each fig with your finger or a small spoon. Stuff each fig with the chocolate mixture. Pinch each opening together firmly.

Place the stuffed figs, stem side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Turn figs over and bake another 5 minutes or until the bottoms begin to brown. Press a whole almond into each fig and reseal.

Makes 24 stuffed figs.

HOMEMADE RICOTTA CHEESE

Homemade ricotta cheese

 

– 1/2 gallon whole milk
– 1 cup cream
– 2 teaspoons salt
– 6 tablespoons lemon juice
– Honey, for garnish

Heat the milk, cream and salt over medium heat until it is about to boil. Add the lemon juice, stir a few times and when mixture begins to curdle, remove from the heat. Let curds rest for a minute or two. Using a slotted spoon, skim the ricotta curds from the whey and place them in a colander or wire sieve lined with cheesecloth. Drain for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a drizzle of honey. 

Makes about 1/2 pound.


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

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