Remember when I made that list of intentions for the year? Something about a rumpus and a pistachio cake? Well, the occasion for that divine cake finally made itself known! I have this lovely group of friends who host a wine and dine party every spring - each family or individual brings a dish with a wine pairing to share. We've been doing this for years now and every year it gets better, everyone determined to out-do what they did last year. I enlisted for dessert this year, with this cake in mind. I knew that if ever I was to find an occasion and a company that would most appreciate the harmony of flavors in this cake, it was this one.
My own expectations were pretty high, having dreamt about making and eating this cake for quite some time now. I went to my neighborhood Trader Joe's for dried black mission figs for the compote and shelled pistachios for the cake. I did some research on dessert and wine pairings and discovered that generally you want your wine to be sweeter than your dessert. This cake isn't all that sweet and with such a complexity of flavors, I needed a wine that would do it justice. After talking with the TJ's wine guy, I settled on a lightly bubbly pink Moscato. Not only was it beautiful, it was perfect with my cake.
I made the fig compote ahead of time, using local honey from last year's harvest. I started to get nervous while making the cake, suddenly doubting the lack of sweetness and if people would really like figs or if it would just make them think of their grandma's prunes. The pistachio cake is made with olive oil, so it has a savory quality to it, and the oils from the pistachios can have a slightly bitter after-taste. Like most first times I make a recipe, I was nervous. I made a one and a half times batch so I could bake off a 10" cake, but I ended up with more than enough fig compote (PB + Fig anyone?). The cake didn't rise much at all, one more thing to be worried about.
Boy, was I wrong with all that worrying. The cake was dense and moist and lovely. It sliced beautifully for the filling. Nutty, with the mysterious flavor of olive oil, and naturally sweet with the figs and honey. The cream cheese frosting was the perfect amount of creamy sweetness to pull it all together. And, it was beautiful. The pink Moscato was simply divine in between bites, just enough clean and sweet and bubbly to complement the web of flavors. My wine and dine mates even named it "best pairing." A special thanks to the Trader Joe's wine guy for the wine suggestion, and a huge thanks to my friend Lizzy for passing on this recipe long ago.
I love to garnish with elements that are actually in a recipe, so I was happy to top the cake with a few spare nuts and figs. I think of it as a nod to the figs and pistachios for being so great and also a cue to the eater for what's in the cake.
So if you come across an occasion or excuse for a pistachio fig cake, I implore you to make this one. You won't regret it, and neither will your eaters.
Pistachio Olive Oil Cake with Fig Compote Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Ming Thompson's recipe found here, also her photos of the cake are gorgeous, I couldn't attempt to compete with them)
Fig Compote Filling
1.5 c. whole dried figs (I used Black Mission Figs)
1.5 c. water
the juice of one orange (about 1/3 c.)
a couple dashes of salt
2 T. honey
Chop the figs into small chunks, removing any stems. Cook in a saucepan with water, orange juice, and salt until figs are soft and water is evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add honey and cook for a minute more. Let cool.
Pistachio Olive Oil Cake
1 c. shelled pistachios
1 c. flour
1.5 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. milk
2 t. lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 8x8 baking pan, line the bottom with a square of parchment paper (to ensure it comes out in one piece).
Pulse pistachios in a food processor until the texture of coarse sand. Combine ground pistachios, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Stir until well combined. Add oil and milk. Beat with an electric mixer until blended. Add eggs and lemon juice, beat until mixed.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 35 minutes, until edges are lightly brown and inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 stick butter, at room temp
4 oz. cream cheese
2 c. confectioners sugar
Mash all the ingredients together until roughly combined. Beat with an electric mixer on high until smooth and creamy.
Once cool, slice cake in half horizontally using a serrated knife. Remove top layer and spoon fig filling onto bottom layer, spreading evenly. Replace top layer and frost with cream cheese frosting. Garnish with additional figs and pistachios.