How did it become fall? It seems like just a few weeks ago I was sailing the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Appearances of plums and peaches everywhere, a lambent harvest moon, and now the year’s gone crepuscular.
I know there are fall-weather fans who can’t wait to break out the scarves and wool coats; as for me, I find charms in all the seasons (or what pass for seasons in the bay area – I’ve heard all the jokes before). What always trips me up, though, is the one-step-forward, two-steps-back weather progression we have here. One day it’s completely foggy; the next perfectly sunny. A weekend of threateningly grey cloud-filled skies gives way to shorts-wearing temperatures. I’m perfectly eager to welcome fall – I just wish it’d make its definitive entrance and stay, instead of tip-tapping in and out like an elusive cat. While other parts of the country get a beautiful, russet-crimson-vermilion fadeout of summer, we get climate confusion.
So how do I solve my meteorological dilemma? By going to Florida next week, where it’s even more steadfastly un-fall. I will come back tan and utterly unconvinced that it is October. If it weren’t for the fruit I see at market I could be in utter denial.
Okay, so maybe these black Mission figs can autumnize me. I love the really ripe ones, that almost fall apart before you can get them in your mouth, like a purple sugar bomb. To get myself in the mood for fall (while it’s blazing hot outside and I’ve got the fan running), I decided to turn some figs into dessert.
I played a little free association to get to this recipe – sort of like those boxes of word magnets that you would arrange in various dada combinations on the refrigerator? There ought to be a set for desserts. Like “pie”, “peach”, and “sui generis“. Or “chocolate”, “vanilla”, “chiaroscuro”. Like recipe brainstorming on crack.
So I started with figs, dandied about with oranges, flirted with walnuts, succumbed to pistachios, pondered rosewater, toyed with lemon, considered cream, and settled on mascarpone. The final result: pistachio cake with mascarpone cream and honey roasted figs on top. That’s where ingredient-and-word-play get you.
Figs split and ready for roasting in the oven. You don’t have to roast them; they are a perfectly fine accompaniment on their own. But the thought of honey-scented figs just upped the autumn factor for me. They are also really good by themselves, if you don’t have time to make a cake.
Pistachios ready for pulverizing. The cake is essentially a genoise, made nutty with pistachios and moistened with sugar syrup. I found the mascarpone cream had a weight and tang that contrasted nicely with the light sponge cake, moreso than just a basic whipped cream filling. I also didn’t want to make the cake too sweet, as the figs-and-honey were already providing plenty of sweetness. The end dessert is light but grounded at the same time, perhaps an ideal metaphor with our to-and-fro dance with the beginnings of fall.
I’ll return in a week. Happy fall, everyone!
- 40 g pistachios
- 75 g powdered sugar
- 40 g blanched almonds
- 40 g egg yolks
- 60 g eggs
- 115 g egg whites
- 2 g cream of tartar
- 50 g + 1/2 cup sugar
- 60 g all purpose flour
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8 oz mascarpone cheese
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- about 12 ripe figs
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
For the cake:
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease two 8x8 pans , line with parchment paper, and grease parchment paper.
- Combine pistachios, powdered sugar, and almonds in a food processor. Process until nuts are finely ground.
- Pour nut mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add in eggs and egg yolks and stir until combined.
- Combine egg whites, cream of tartar, and 2 tablespoons of the 50 g of sugar in bowl of a stand mixer. Whip until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar and whisk until stiff peaks.
- Sift the flour over the nut mixture and stir to combine. Add in the egg whites and carefully fold in.
- Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the tops are lightly colored and the top just springs back to the touch. Remove from oven and place on wire racks. Run an offset spatula or knife around the edges to loosen the cake from the pans. Let cool.
- For the sugar syrup: Combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan on the stove and bring to a boil, stirring to let the sugar dissolve. Let cool.
For the mascarpone frosting:
- Combine all ingredients in bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk together until soft peaks form. Add more confectioner's sugar if you would like it sweeter. Do not over-whisk or the mixture will curdle.
- To assemble the cake: Trim off the edges of each square of edge to even them off. Place one layer of cake on a plate. Brush a little of sugar syrup over the cake layer. Spread a layer of frosting evenly on top. Place second layer of cake on frosting and brush sugar syrup over it. Spread a layer of frosting evenly on top.
- Refrigerate cake for about an hour or so to let frosting set. When you are ready to serve the cake, you can take it out and trim the sides so they look nice and even.
For the figs:
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Wash figs and slice them in half. Arrange in an ovenproof baking dish just large enough to fit them.
- Combine butter and honey in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat on the stove until butter is melted. Pour over the figs.
- Place figs in oven and bake for about 13-15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling. Remove figs and let cool on wire rack for a few minutes before serving.