As evidenced by this post I love tea time. Whether it's a simple tea and toast towards the end of the workday or a full-on afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and elegant cakes in my favorite A-line frock, I love tea. My favorite is probably a Devonshire tea (also known as a cream tea) which features scones with jam and clotted cream. While searching through my current collection of jams I came across an old favorite: Dalmatia Orange Fig spread. I have no idea how many jars of this I've gone through over the years. I used to use this jam so often in savory dishes that one of my friends started remarking, "ah yes, the famous orange-fig combo!" Although I love it, I started focusing on other flavors. But seeing the distinctive jar got me thinking; with fig season in the Northeast drawing to a close and orange season just getting started, I decided to create a teacake based on these two fantastic fruits.
I toyed around with the idea of a flaky pastry crust and perhaps a pastry cream. Then I thought of using a glaze over the fruits with the Dalmatia spread. The more I focused on the fruits themselves though, I thought about how these are not delicate fruits. These are not berries to be buoyed by pastry cream. Nor did I want to make a delicate, flaky crust turn soggy with a juicy citrus fruit. The more I thought about it, the more I came back to this thought over and over: caramelize.
The ultimate result of this recipe evolution was that I decided to bake the cake with the fruits on the bottom of the cake pan with a bit of sugar so they would begin to caramelize. Figs are not a particularly sweet fruit and since oranges can be either very sweet or on the bitter side I wanted to add a rich, buttery glaze. What better than a little caramel sauce? Baking the fruits on the bottom and then inverting the cake ensures that they won't overwhelm the batter giving the cake an opportunity to stay fluffy and bake without the heaviness of the figs sinking into the batter or the orange's juices preventing the cake from cooking. The best teacake batter base I return to time and again is the same one you see here - tweaked of course to compliment the flavor profile of these fruits.
Orange-Fig Teacake with Caramel Glaze
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar + 2T for sprinkling
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2t vanilla extract
2 cups AP flour
1t baking powder
2 navel oranges
6 fresh figs, halved
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed 30 seconds in microwave
1/3 cup water
You will need a 9" springform pan, or a cake pan with at least 2" high sides, sprayed with baking spray or buttered and sprinkled with the 2T of sugar.
Preheat oven to 350º F
Zest one orange and add the zest to your mixing bowl. Cut the peel off both oranges, removing all pith, and slice into 1/4" rounds. Cut the figs in half.
Combine the softened butter, orange zest, and sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, heavy cream and vanilla extract. Beat well. Sift the remaining dry ingredients into the batter and gently incorporate. Take care not to over mix or the batter will get tough.
Layer the figs and orange slices into the pan and spoon the batter on top. Gently spread the batter evenly over the whole and carefully, lightly, bang the pan to release air bubbles and ensure that the batter gets down into all the crevices between the fruit slices on the bottom.
Bake at 350º F for approximately forty-five minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Let cool slightly before inverting the cake onto a rack to cool completely.
While the cake is cooling make your caramel sauce.
Mise en place is a good idea for any recipe, but for making caramel it is utterly essential. If you are a get-it-as-you-go type of cook I strongly urge you to make this be the one recipe where you have all your ingredients and tools out, measured, and ready to use before lighting the gas. In addition to the above ingredients you will also need a heavy bottomed saucepan, a wooden spoon, a pastry brush, a cup of water (to use with pastry brush). Once you do it a couple of times you’ll realize it’s neither complicated nor scary, but it does require preparation and close attention.
Combine sugar and water in saucepan over medium-high heat. Use the brush with water to brush down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pot. As the sugar dissolves into the water it will begin to change color. This may seem to take hours (a watched pot and all that) but it's really just a few minutes. Without stirring, you can gently swirl the saucepot to homogenize the color.
When the sugar is a golden amber color turn off the heat and add the warmed heavy cream, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. The sauce will react violently and bubble up.
Continue stirring and add the butter. The sauce will begin to calm down. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Gently pour into a clean bowl and brush the glaze over the cake while the caramel is still warm. I like to brush each piece of fruit first and then the rest of the cake, letting some of the sauce drip down the sides of the cake.
You will have leftover caramel sauce. As the caramel sauce cools it will thicken. This is normal. Store in an airtight containter in the fridge. Warm in the microwave for 15-30 seconds before use. You can drizzle some sauce on the plate before serving a slice of cake or use leftover sauce on ice cream or in your coffee (especially with the pumpkin flavors that are out now). I like to make a strong cup of chai tea and use a spoonful of caramel sauce to sweeten it.