Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fig & Anise Cake

While I'm partial to filling and frosting and finishing - nothing triggers do-it-yourselfery for me like an unadorned cake - sometimes, it's best to leave well alone. Just reading the recipe from Carole Bloom's The Essential Baker, all figgy and aniseedy goodness, was enough to instill the conviction that practising a little restraint would be in order - a cake of such savours wants for nothing. Unadorned it stands, and gloriously so.

OK...I did cheat a little by varnishing with a simple glaze of strained preserves. But in my lily gilder's defense, the preserves were fig preserves, which surely serve to heighten figginess, thus serving a function other than purely ornamental.

Below, an adaptation of the recipe - I tossed in a handful of pine nuts, added a splash of Armagnac, and omitted the anise extract as I didn't have any handy. Also, I baked the batter in a 8 x 3-inch round cake pan, so the baking time took longer than the 55 minutes to 1 hour specified for a 9 x 4-inch Bundt pan. For the original recipe and intructions, do look up the lovely book - there's plenty here to inspire and inform.

Simple in look, spectacular in flavour, it's equally good at breakfast with coffee or with afternoon tea. And, unsurprisingly, a post-prandial nip of Armagnac.

Fig & Anise Cake
Adapted from Carole Bloom's The Essential Baker
Makes one 8-inch round cake

290 gm cake flour, plus extra for dusting the pan
1 Tbsp double action baking powder
1/4 tsp fine salt
3 Tbsp anise seeds
75 gm pine nuts
100 gm dried figs (I used sun-dried Black Mission ones), coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp Armagnac
250 gm unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
340 gm caster sugar
5 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

Center a rack in the oven. Preheat oven to

Grease a 8 x 3-inch round cake pan with a little softened unsalted butter. Dust pan with a little cake flour, shaking out any excess. Set aside.

Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Add the anise seeds and pine nuts, tossing together well. Set the bowl of dry ingredients aside.

In a small bowl, toss the chopped dried figs and Armagnac together. Set aside.

Place the softened unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the caster sugar in a gradual stream, creaming together well, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a silicone spatula.

Add the eggs one at a time to the butter-and-sugar mixture, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a silicone spatula. Beat until smooth. Add the vanilla bean paste and blend well.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the chopped figs (together with their soaking liquid), dividing the flour mixture into 3 parts and the figs into 2 parts, and starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated after each addition. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix for another 20 seconds.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared cake pan. Use the silicone spatula to smooth and even the top. Bake for 1 hour and 15 to 25 minutes; after the first 45 minutes, cover the cake with a piece of aluminum foil if the top is browning too rapidly. The cake is done when a skewer inserted in the center emerges clean.

Remove pan from the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Invert the pan onto the rack and leave for a few moments so the cake drops out of the pan. Remove the pan and let cake cool completely.

If desired, finish with a dusting of icing sugar, or brush on a glaze simply made by heating some sieved preserves (fig or apricot would work).

Thursday, May 17, 2007


The opportunity to share my love of baking at one of Singapore’s most well respected cooking schools has been an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience. I owe huge thanks to the fabulous Shermay Lee, whose dedication to the pursuit of perfection is second to none, and the peerlessly resourceful S, without whom all this would never have transpired in the first place. And last but certainly not least, the wonderful people I’ve met through the various classes.

Since the weekend just past – the class covered classic macaron flavours like chocolate, coffee, vanilla and hazelnut – I’ve received a few emails asking how the main recipe can be adapted for matcha macarons. It’s a super easy variation that requires no change in quantities of the key ingredients, only that of the flavouring. So here it is, a token of my appreciation to all the lovely ladies (and occasional gentleman) I've had the great pleasure of getting to know a little better over the past few months.

Matcha Macarons
Yield: About 36 pairs, depending on the size they are piped

Follow method as set out on pages 1 to 3. At step 6, stir in 1 Tbsp (level) of matcha (in lieu of vanilla). At step 14, pipe on a dollop of Matcha Buttercream or some other complementary filling.

Matcha Buttercream
Yield: Enough to fill at least 36 pairs of macarons, depending on the size of the macarons

Follow method for classic buttercream as set out on page 7. To flavour, make the following: Stir 1 Tbsp (level) of matcha together with 1 Tbsp hot water until the paste is smooth. Once cooled, add to the buttercream (see step 5).

My personal preference is to sandwich the matcha macarons with sweetened chestnut puree - the richness of the latter is nicely balanced by the grassy, herbaceous character of the former.