Early morning rain had dampened the earth and the sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds. Mum, Beau and I quickly threw our legs over the rusted old gate at the entrance of the fibro shack two doors down.
From our living room window I can see it; the large green leaves swaying in the breeze; the birds flitting this way and that as their bellies swell from nibbling at the fruit. This is when I know that they are ready and it is time.
So, there we were, standing under the canopy of the old fig tree, her leaves dappled with droplets of rain and with each pluck of a plump, purple-hued fig, it was quickly followed by a "plop" as they landed softly against the paper bag.
My mind was going 100 miles an hour as to what to do with these gems. After having already received an abundance from the very lovely Trish, I set about making jam, with a touch of limoncello (you can find the recipe at the bottom of the page) and as it bubbled away on the stove top my mind wandered again.
A pile of cookbooks and a few scribbled notes later I had captured them! praline figs, dotted with butter and roasted until their collective juices pooled at the bottom of the dish; scattered with crushed almond praline and served with thick greek yoghurt (this recipe can be found on Sophie Hansen's blog www.local-lovely.com) next came honey-roasted figs; figs preserved in brandy followed by balsamic figs with a piece of soft, snow-white goats cheese nestled into the centers.
But it was these, delicate lemon scented cream cheese baby cakes dolloped with a whipped goats cheese curd which allowed for a slice or two of honey-roasted fig to nestle comfortably into, before being scattered with hazelnut praline and finally drizzled with ribbons of honey that really made me happy.
Ripening fruit waits for no one and at times it may feel as if one is drowning in a surplus of seasonal produce! However it is always lovely to give whatever it may be away, be that fresh or bottled, preserved or baked. Because handing over something that that your hands have created; a jar of glistening, seed-speckled jam or a plate of little cakes to a neighbour, well, there just isnt many other simple pleasures that give both the giver and receiver an infinite amount of joy!
Little Lemon scented baby cakes
Recipe adapted from Belinda Jeffery's "Mix & Bake" cookbook, Cream cheese & citrus butter cake
225g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bi-carb soda
1/2 tsp salt
185g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
150g cream cheese, softened at room temperature
275g caster sugar
grated zest from 2 lemons
3 free-range eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Lemon syrup (optional) Will make for a moist version
55g caster sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees. Grease a 12 hole muffin tin (or you can use dariole moulds if you happen to have them) with butter and then place a round piece of baking paper at the bottom of each hole. line the sides with paper as well, its easier if you create a sort of collar with them and wrap them around to sit in each hole.
Sift the flour, baking powder, bi-carb and salt into a large bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, or a large bowl using hand held beaters, pop your butter and cream cheese in and then beat until smooth and combined. Add in the sugar and the lemon zest and then continue to beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides at least once or twice so that everything is combined. Next, add the eggs one by one, giving them a little whisk to break the yolk up before adding to the batter. Wait until the first egg has been incorpoated and then add the next. Add the vanilla and mix again.
stop the mixer and pour in the dry ingredients and then pop it back onto the mixer and give it one or two little pulses before turning staright on, otherwise you will end up in a floury mess!
continue to mix slowly until the flour is just combined. Scrape down the sides and give it a final stir with your spoon.
spoon the batter into the muffin tin, coming about half way up. place into your oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the tops spring back lightly when touched on top. You can also use a cake tester or skewer to check if they are done.
While your cakes are baking away, now you can make the syrup. In a small saucepan add the sugar and lemon juice, making sure there are no pips. Stir continuously over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to simmer for about a minute. Take off the heat and set aside.
Remove from the oven and let them sit for about 10 minutes, then remove the collars and run a knife around the outsides, then carefully ease your knife down one side and lever the little cakes out. sit them on the cooling rack so that what was their bottoms in the tin are now their tops, and place them either onto a tray or on top of a sheet of baking paper so that there is less mess to clean up after having poured the lemon syrup over each one. Allow them to cool completely. They can be made a day ahead and stored into an airtight container at room temperature if you would prefer to ice them the following day.
Goats cheese curd icing
40g goats cheese (I like to use Meredith Dairy)
200ml thickened cream
70g icing sugar, sifted
In the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk the cheese and sugar together until smooth, slowly start to pour in the cream and then whisk until its a velvety smooth texture that holds its shape.
You can make this the day before and let it sit in the fridge.
This will make more than you need, but it is very handy to have stored in the freezer in an airtight container, with baking paper between each shard.
120g hazelnuts, roasted
110g caster sugar
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Lay your hazelnuts out on to a small baking tray and pop them into the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until they are starting to colour. allow to cool and then roughly chop them up. Prepare a baking tray with baking paper and set to the side.
In a medium saucepan add the sugar, water and vinegar and stir over a medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. This next part requires you to allow it to sit there without touching until those small little bubbles start to turn a toasty golden colour. At this point you really do need to keep a very close eye on it as it can very quickly have a mind of its own and burn!
as soon as it is smelling toffe-like, remove from the heat and add the nuts, give it a good stir and then place onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, spread it out as best as you can with the back of the spoon and then allow to cool completely. Be careful, it is extremely hot! Then as quickly as you can fill the pot right up to the rim with hot water, add the spoon and allow to sit in the sink, it makes washing up so much easier!!
Honey roasted figs
If you spy a fig tree hanging over the fence, in a park or in a neighbours yard (ideally a holiday home) then keep a very close eye on those ripening figs, they are gold! If not, simply buy from your local farmers market.
About 8-10 figs
a good drizzle of honey
enough softened butter to dot onto about half of the figs
Slice the figs into about 3 and lay them out onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.
drizzle over the honey and dot over the butter and then place into the oven to bake for about 20 minutes, or until softened.
Allow to cool. You may end up with more than what you need but they are very delicious on top of warming spiced porridge the next morning for breakfast.
All of these elements can be done at least a day in advance, the praline will last in the freezer for ages and the goats curd icing and figs will keep in the fridge, covered.
Take your little baby cakes and sit them in a row on your bench. Next give the icing a bit of a stir and then dollop a spoonful on each cake. lay a slice or two of honey-roasted fig on top and then roughly chop some of the praline and scatter over the top. drizzle with a little honey, (i love this part as i watch the honey slowly glisten and fall from the spoon creating a stream of liquid gold)
Boil the kettle, place a baby cake on to a pretty china plate, a cake fork to the side. Make your hot beverage of choice and choose your most comfy spot in your home and enjoy the few minutes of stillness.
Fig & Limoncello Jam
Makes about 4 1/2 cups, but I usually double the recipe.
1kg fresh figs
80ml lemon juice
2 tbsp limoncello
1kg sugar (you can either use caster or regular)
1 tbsp Vanilla bean paste
Sterilise your jars. Wash them in hot water and then place onto an oven tray and into the oven at 150 degrees. Allow them to sit in there while the jam cooks.
Wash your lovely figs and then chop them into quarters. Pop them into a large pot along with the juice, limoncello and 125 ml of water. Bring them to the boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes or until they are soft. Add in the sugar and vanilla bean paste and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring back to the boil and then reduce until it is all bubbling away like a lava field.
Leave it alone but do come back to stir every now and then, watching to make sure its not catching on the bottom of the pot. Remove any foamy, scummy looking bits from the top and continue to cook for anywhere between 25-60 minutes.
You can test for the setting point by placing a small dish in the freezer and then plopping a little jam on to the plate and then putting back into the freezer for a couple of minutes. If when you slide your finger through the centre of the jam creating a path and it stays put, then your jam is ready.
Remove from the heat and being very, very careful using a jug and perhaps a wide neck funnel, pour the jam into the jars, seal tightly with their matching lids and give them a wipe with a hot cloth, turn upside down and leave for 5 minutes before turning right side up again to completely cool.
Label and store in a cool dark place and enjoy giving it away or spread thickly onto hot buttered toast! I not so secretly enjoy scraping the last little spoonful left in the bottom of the pot onto said hot buttered toast as the dishes wait patiently to be washed.