Figs and Olive Oil Thyme Cake


I’ve been on a kick to try things I’ve not tried before.  I often boast that my palate’s not picky, but know very well that there are a few things I conveniently avoid when they surface in a menu or cross my path in the market.

One of those would be figs.

Outside of eating Fig Newtons when I was growing up, I don’t think we ever had a fig in the house.  I liked Fig Newtons’ gooey sweetness, but didn’t connect them with figs until I first saw them growing on a huge tree I was thinking of climbing on one of our summertime adventures in Chipiona, Spain.  I don’t know who the tree belonged to, but it was perfect for climbing.  The fact that it had fruit on it made things even better, whether I knew what the fruit was or not.

Of course I had to try one, and thinking back on that now, know that the fig didn’t stand a chance.  I have a problem with soft fruit, or fruit that’s overripe.  So when I chose one that had fallen to the ground, not only was it very soft, it was cloyingly sweet, and, I’m thinking, beginning to ferment.  Tree climbing was quickly forgotten because it truly was one of those spit and wipe your tongue off experiences.

Then I saw the “last bite” in Food & Wine’s 30th Anniversary issue“Olive Oil-Thyme Cake with Figs,” a recipe by Elizabeth Dahl of Chicago’s Boka.  When my son called about the morels, I asked whether he’d seen figs as well, wondering if I might be brave enough to give them a try.  I’ve seen other food sites where people were singing their praises, and nearly groaning over their fig passion.  Yes, Whole Foods had both green and black figs, or in this case, Calimyrna and Mission.

I guess I was going to have to step out of my food comfort zone on this one — a rare event.

But I had a very open mind…

Mission Figs

Figs in Thyme Pepper Syrup

Olive Oil-Thyme Cake with Figs

for the cake…
1 c. all-purpose flour
3 T gluten flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 lg. egg yolks
1/4 c. plus 1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. water
1-1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. plus 2 T sugar
5 lg. egg whites

for the figs…
1/2 lb. each of green and black figs
1/4 c. turbinado sugar
1 tsp. fresh thyme, plus sprigs for garnish
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt

for the topping…
1/2 c. greek yogurt
1 T honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray a 9/13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour with the baking powder.  In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks, olive oil, water, thyme, salt and vanilla with 3/4 c. plus 1 T of the sugar.  Using a wire whip, beat until very frothy — about 3 minutes.  Pour in the flour mixture, and with a spatula or wooden spoon, continue to mix until all the flour is mixed in and moist.

In another bowl, mix the egg whites until foamy, then slowly add the rest of the sugar (1/4 c. plus 1 T) and beat until they are thick and shiny, about 4 minutes.

Lighten the batter by stirring in about a cup of the egg whites, then add the rest, folding carefully until well mixed.

Pour batter into baking pan and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan on all edges.  Remove from oven and cool at room temperature.

While the cake is baking, prepare the figs by cutting in halves or quarters and placing in a medium bowl.  Sprinkle with the sugar, add the olive oil, thyme, pepper, and salt.  Toss lightly and let sit at room temp until cake is cool and ready to eat.

Mix yogurt with honey in a small bowl, cut the cake in to squares, spoon over some of the figs and syrup, then put a dollop of honey yogurt on top.  A sprig of thyme and another twist of the pepper grinder looks nice, too.

Olive Oil-Thyme Cak with Figs and Black Pepper


  • I didn’t have the pastry flour the original recipe called for so altered the recipe as noted above.  I can’t remember why I have gluten flour, but I do, so there you have it.  The package does have a very nice recipe for Honey Oatmeal Bread that I have tried, however, so maybe that’s why I put it in my grocery cart that day…
  • The cake has a light texture that reminds me of angelfood cake.  It’s pretty spongy and nice.
  • The figs were beautiful.  I loved the way they looked — like art.  I loved the idea of the thyme and the pepper, too.  The greek yogurt was my idea because it just made sense with the other ingredients and worked very well.
  • The black figs are definitely better than the green ones.  The green ones have a kind of tang that I can’t describe and are more firm — almost like they aren’t ripe.  Thankfully, neither kind was soft, cloyingly sweet, or beginning to ferment.
  • If I loaded my fork with a bit of each flavor, this was a very, very good dessert.  It felt unusual, elegant, special…
  • But it was still figs.  I liked the dessert, but nope, I couldn’t just eat the figs.  The mind is truly an interesting thing, isn’t it?
  • In normal fashion, the three of us tried it after dinner, although I’d gotten a chance to eat some earlier in the day, and my husband said it was “interesting.”  My son mentioned after I’d taken his barely touched plate from him, that it was a “new experience” and the first time he’d ever had a “gag reaction” to food.  He was actually embarrassed.


I guess we aren’t a fig family.  To give the fair fig a chance, though, I did try them broiled with a slice of goat brie on the advice of some friends.  Again, it was pleasant, but I kept wanting a tomato instead.

Figs Broiled with Goat's Brie

But I’m not ready to give up and will continue to read and learn, seeing if I can convince my brain that something so beautiful can also taste heavenly.

After all, I’ve heard they help with wrinkles!