My third year of college, I spent fall semester in Florence, Italy. Immediately, I fell in love with the place–the different-from-home hum of the streets, trips to the market, gelato strolls, counter side cappuccinos, and, of course, the figs.
Hang on, I think “fell in love with figs” might be the understatement of the decade. This was no fleeting love, this was deep, down, stupid, do-anything love. Fig season was in full swing when I arrived and if I hadn’t been similarly mesmerized by all the other foodstuffs that I was surrounded by, I could have lived off them. I took long walks, casing neighborhoods and hillsides that had fig branches hanging over gates and fences. I was not afraid to scale walls, I…should probably stop there.
If I managed to get any of the figs back to my apartment, I mostly I just quartered them and ate them in their natural state or with a bit of honey and a wedge of cheese. If I had slowed down long enough, I like to imagine I would have baked something like this cake. This is another distinctly Italian tasting cake–not too sweet, not too heavy, moist with ricotta cheese and loaded with almond flavor–topped with thick slices of juicy, ripe figs. It’s delicious as dessert with a spoonful of whipped cream and heavenly next to a cappuccino in the morning.
Like with many homemade Italian desserts, the ingredient list is blessedly short–just eggs, sugar, ricotta, figs, sliced and ground almonds, plus the zest of a lemon and a splash of amaretto.
Separate the eggs and whip the whites until stiff and set aside. Now beat the yolks with sugar, ricotta, and amaretto. Stir in the ground almonds and lemon zest, then gently fold in the whipped whites.
Spread the batter into a springform pan and top with figs and sliced almonds. Bake.
Let the cake cool, then put a pot of espresso on the stove. Slice, serve, and allow yourself to return to Italy for a moment. Be sure to save a piece for tomorrow; the cake holds up well and I know you’ll be wanting to make the trip again.
- 4 Eggs, separated
- 1 c. Ricotta Cheese
- 2 tsp. Amaretto or 1 tsp. Almond Extract
- 1 c. Sugar
- 2½ c. ground Almonds or Almond Meal
- zest of 1 Lemon
- ⅓ c. sliced Almonds
- 1 pint fresh Figs, sliced
- Powdered Sugar
- Preheat oven to 325°. Place a round of parchment in the bottom of a springform pan and lightly grease and flour (if you'd like the cake to remain gluten free, use a Tbsp. or so of almond meal to coat the pan, rather than flour).
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently transfer to another bowl and wipe out the bowl of the electric mixer.
- Now beat the ricotta with the egg yolks, Amaretto or almond extract, and sugar until smooth. Stir in the ground almonds and lemon zest. Gently fold in half of the eggs whites, then fold in the rest, stirring just until white streaks are no longer visible.
- Spread the cake batter into the prepared pan and top with the sliced almonds and figs. Bake until a tester comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and allow to cool completely on a rack before slicing and serving.
Side note–lately, I’ve been getting my Italy fix by following @notmynonni on instagram. It’s an absolutely charming stream of cute nonni out and about, mostly in Florence. You’ll smile, your heart will instantly warm.
Also…I’m on instagram, too! You can follow @strawberryplumsarah to see what I’m up to, in and out of my kitchen!
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