I think everyone appreciates a homemade gift during the holiday season. It is special and shows you have put some thought into the gift. Consider “Southern Fig Preserves Cake.” The cake is unique, definitely has a Louisiana or Southern charm and is a moist, crunchy and delicious cake. A friend suggested the recipe and she even took photographs and shared her experience “writing a blog post.” I made the recipe, too, here is my mini-loaf.
Since Alice retired as a nutritionist and nutrition educator, she’s had more time for hobbies such as cooking and trying new recipes. Alice’s inspiration was a recipe in one of the Southern Living Annual Recipe books and also our local newspaper. Alice made the Fig Cake for three small social gatherings. She either served the cake to the guests or sent home small pieces as hostess gifts. Her guests loved the cake. Of course, everyone wanted the recipe and one guest even asked Alice if she had made her own fig preserves. (Alice loves to cook, but not that much!) Here is Alice’s cake.
First Place Cake Division Winner
Alice collects Southern Living Annual Recipes books. At an estate sale, she purchased several of the cookbooks which finished her 1980’s series collection and began the 1990’s. When she browsed through the 1989 book, Alice realized a recipe for Fig Cake looked very similar to one published a few days ago in our local newspaper, The Advocate. The Advocate’s recipe had taken the grand prize in the “cake division” at a local autumn Sugar Festival competition. A first place finish in any competition is something worth noting. Alice was intrigued and had to try the recipe. Here is a link to the recipe online — (theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/entertainment_life/food_restaurants/article_23a0f2c2-9248-11e6-a4b2-535e99152898.html?sr_source=lift_amplify)
Southern Living Annual Recipe Books
I have thoroughly enjoyed my Southern Living Annual Recipe cookbooks over the years. I purchased one a year for three years in the 1980’s. (Of course, you can purchase them for every year!) The books include the best of the Southern Living magazine recipes published during the past year. They are great, kitchen tested recipes. I have many sticky notes marking recipes I’ve tried and enjoyed.
Growing Figs and Fig Preserves
The fig preserves is what makes this cake unique. If you are not familiar with a fresh fig, it is a delicate, small fruit–soft, sticky and juicy when ripe. It is full of tiny seeds which gives the fruit a “crunch.” The fresh fruit is very perishable and only is in season a few weeks. Guess that’s why most folks are familiar with dried figs, canned figs or preserves. This photo shows the tiny seeds in the fruit preserves.
In Louisiana, figs ripen in the early summer on the new growth that the branches shoot out every spring. Fig trees are easy to grow in Louisiana; they like sun and a protected spot; well drained soil. We had a fig tree in our backyard for many years until it succumbed to my over-watering of a nearby flower bed. The tree got to be about 10 feet tall. After a few years, gathering figs meant climbing on a ladder. We shared most of the figs with the birds who loved them.
Cracker Barrel Restaurants Sell Fig Preserves
Alice had difficulty finding fig preserves. She went to three specialty grocery stores before finding them. I immediately thought of the “Cracker Barrel” restaurant chain. There are 641 of these restaurants which are located along interstate highways throughout the country. Upon entering the restaurant, a novelty gift shop greets customers. On our trips over the years to and from Louisiana and Virginia, we always planned to stop at the Cracker Barrel restaurant close to Knoxville, Tennessee, for supper. And it hasn’t changed; still the same rocking chairs on the porch, same menu and waitresses with a southern drawl and a crowded patronage. This fall, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel along Interstate 81 in Abingdon, Virginia, in the southwest part of the state. Sure enough, there were fig preserves.
Making the Cake – Using the French “mise en place” Method.
To conserve energy Alice uses a method of cooking called, mise en place . This is Alice’s explanation.
“Having had some culinary training about 20 years ago, I became familiar with the term, mise en place, and have tried to use it in preparing dishes ever since. Mise en place (French pronunciation: [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” In professional kitchens, it means organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., preserves, sauces, spices, freshly chopped vegetables or nuts, and other ingredients) that a cook will require to prepare the menu item.”
The practice can be used in a home kitchen, too. This method means getting everything organized before you start the cooking project. It took a couple of tries but here are Alice’s ingredients–ready to start. The Advocate recipe is in the background.
Alice baked her cake in two loaf pans. The Advocate recipe used a Bundt pan, but Alice is scaling bake her kitchen inventory and improved with loaf pans.
The Advocate Fig Preserves Cake recipe is very easy to make. Cream the oil, sugar and eggs. Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg) and add to the batter along with buttermilk. Fold in the chopped pecans and fig preserves and pour into well oiled and floured cake loaf pans and bake. Notice that Alice used shelled pecans–this is a Louisiana agricultural product and gives a southern touch. Walnut pieces could be substituted. Here is Alice’s cake. She used the icing recipe in the Advocate article.
My Recipe Adaptation and Baking Tips
I adapted and combined the recipes from the Advocate newspaper and the Southern Living Annual Recipe book and baked the cakes in individual loaf pans suitable for gifts. Here are some suggestions for making the cake:
- Bring the cultured buttermilk, eggs and butter to room temperature before starting. This takes about an hour. The cake rises due to a baking soda and buttermilk reaction, so cold ingredients impede this process.
- For spices, Alice and I used cinnamon and nutmeg. The original recipes used additional spices; neither of us care for cloves, so why include this spice? I added vanilla extract, too.
- I store left-over pecans in the freezer. They last a year or more when frozen. To refresh the pecans pieces, I toast them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 3 minutes until they begin to become aromatic. Immediately remove the pecan pieces from the hot baking sheet — or they will continue to cook and burn.
- I used spray liquid margarine to “grease” the mini-pans. It is easy to coat the bottom of the pans this way.
- Resist the temptation to over-fill the cake loaf pans. The batter shouldn’t be filled more than two-thirds full. If filled to the brim, the cake will over-flow the top of the pan; the cakes won’t bake completely without burning and the cake will collapse or “drop.” My recipe filled five individual mini-loaf pans.
- Bake the cakes until the edges begin to separate from the sides of the pans and the top springs back and a toothpick comes out clean. Don’t over-bake or under-bake!
- Fig preserves are sticky, so when removing the cake from the pans we suggest running a spatula around the edges and bottom of the pan to release the baked cake. Don’t worry if some of the cake sticks to the bottom of the pan. Just use it for samples!
Traditional vs Easy Method to Prepare the Batter
The Advocate recipe used oil rather than butter or margarine. This makes it easy to blend in all the ingredients. For my cakes, I used real butter and mixed the batter in the traditional manner for making cakes, creaming the butter, sugar and eggs and alternating adding the dry ingredients with the buttermilk. I don’t find this to be difficult. Perhaps it gives more “lift or air” to the cakes.
Delicious and definitely different. That’s how I describe our traditional “Southern Fig Preserves Cake.” It makes a great holiday gift. Thanks to Alice for sharing her recipe and story.
Southern Fig Preserves Cake by MayleesKitchen
- oil or spray margarine
- 1 cup pecan pieces
- 3/4 cup real butter (1-1/2 sticks)
- 1-1/2 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 cup cultured buttermilk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup fig preserves (one 11 oz jar of Braswell’s Fig Preserves from Cracker Barrel Restaurant country store)
- Optional, powdered sugar, powdered sugar icing, cream cheese icing or plain cream cheese
Method and Steps:
- Bring butter, eggs and cultured buttermilk to room temperature by setting on kitchen counter for an hour.
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat bottom of 5 individual 3 x 5″ mini-loaf pans with oil or spray margarine. Set aside.
- Toast the pecans. Spread on baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 3 minutes or until aromatic. Don’t over-bake. Remove from oven, toss to combine and immediately transfer to small bowl. Any large pieces may be chopped further. Set aside.
- In large mixing bowl of electric mixer, add butter and beat on medium speed. Slowly add sugar and increase to high speed and beat until sugar and butter are soft and airy.
- Add eggs one at a time, continue to beat on high speed.
- Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sift to combine.
- On low speed of the mixer, add the dry ingredients alternating with the buttermilk. Start and end with the dry ingredients.
- By hand, fold in the fig preserves and pecan pieces.
- Pour into oiled individual mini-loaf pans, the batter should reach to abut 2/3 height of pan.
- Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until top of loaf springs back and tooth pick comes out clean.
- Let mini-loaves cool on wire rack. When at room temperature, run a knife around edges and use spatula to release cake from bottom of loaf pans. Invert and remove.
- When entirely cool, wrap and store loaves in plastic wrap.
- Optionally, ice loaves with powdered sugar, powdered sugar icing, cream cheese icing or serve plain cakes with softened cream cheese.