Fig Cake

Fig picking is coming close to an end here in Portugal, and after a few weeks of eating way too many of them, necessity plus a little out of the box thinking just makes you cook wonderful things. Like this cake.

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fig above

Figs are a big part of Portugal, the south in particular, where you can find a peculiar sweet treat called Queijo de Figo, which literally means fig cheese. It’s like dried fig paste with a mix of nuts and condiments, condensed into a cheese format and texture. Cabrita Neto has developed some tasty concoctions with outstanding ingredients, almonds and cardamom. They even have individual bars, that you can eat as a on-the-go snack. Because, come on, who doesn’t want to eat a tasty piece of fig cheese while walking to work or on a stroll by the coast?

Considering the overflow of this fruit through our lands, plus our cute habit of stopping the car by any road side to pick, we acquired a knack of showing you guys all the ways we love to eat, breath and speak fig.

fig picking

In my home town, at the top near the castle wall close to a garden, there is at least five trees. As soon as summer hits, the fruity smell wonders through the air, and people pop by a branch ever so often to see if any figs are ripe enough to eat. After a few weeks of hot summer heat, beachside adventures and tourist drenched streets, you will find the locals around the trees, with huge poles, that have a sort of tweezer-ish character about it, so they can reach the high branches and pick the out-of-reach fruit. It’s traditionally beautiful.

Not every tree is the same. My grandmother’s tree starts mid August, my backyard trees all sort of begin in September, and a few are still not ready to eat yet.

So, about this cake: it’s a great recipe to add any sort of fruit you wish, and it keeps quite a while considering how moist it is. The lack of dairy provides a sweet treat for a huge group of special dietary people. The original recipe called for only oil, but I have combined half olive oil, so the health benefits are present, without the overwhelming flavor some might not enjoy much in sweets. What sort of olive oil should you use? I prefer to save the extra virgin for salads and bread dipping, use the virgin one for baking as flavor wise it will just combine with the remaining ingredients plus, it will also be cheaper to concoct.

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Ingredients:

  • 250 grams brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 ml virgin olive oil
  • 100 ml cooking oil
  • Lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 225 grams all purpose flour (whole grain for you health nuts)
  • 7 grams baking powder
  • 7 grams baking soda
  • 2 grams sea salt
  • 300 grams figs
  • 4 tablespoons Tawny Port wine
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (ghee for lactose intolerants)
  • 2 tablespoons milk (water for lactose intolerants)

Instructions:

  1. Roast the figs, whole, in port wine and a drizzle of honey. No need to add too much sweet, the figs speak for themselves. Let cool and save the sticky port wine syrup. This will be the base for the glaze. sem título-1079
  2. Beat the eggs sugar, oils and lemon zest for 5 minutes on medium, until a smooth paste os formed.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarb + baking powder, and add to the previous mix.
  4. Add the salt, the roasted cooled figs (cut in quarters).
  5. Place in a cake pan with parchment paper and bake at 165ºC for at least one hour.
  6. Cool the cake, remove from the pan and gently remove the parchment paper. It is suppose to look fairly rustic.
  7. Make the glaze with the roast fig + port wine syrup, softened butter/ghee, lemon zest and milk/water.glazing cake
  8. Decorate with quartered figs.  sem título-1113
  9. Eat.

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Any leftovers? Eat it for breakfast, lunch, snack, whenever. It’s just that sort of cake. Goes well with everything and everyone, if you’re wondering.

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My dog also enjoyed gazing at the cake.

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Mackerel & Garbanzo Bean Hummus 

Fish is a big part of our gastronomic heritage. Not only the fresh seafood available at local markets and fisherman, but one of our most characterized feature, as a country, is our preserved version of ocean goodness.

Considering our hot climate and the lack of refrigerators in the past, our ancestor’s only solution was to produce canned goods. In fact, the Algarve was vastly known for it’s intensive production. Historical facts and mouth to mouth info passed through generations of algarvian families has it that, in the beginning of our food industry activities, women used to be the ones who prepared the fish and layed each filet in a overloaded, yet organized manner in tins. They would to go to work as soon as a bell rang, and whoever arrived last would risk not being able to find a spot to work, and go home empty handed without a day’s pay. They were also searched every day’s end, as to confirm nobody was smuggling precious eggs (ovas in pt) – a delicacy and the most expensive part of the fish.

This was the way we had to use up ingredients preventing them to go bad, nor having to throw away. People used to starve and they had to adapt available resources to climate and financial conditions.

Nowadays, portuguese preserved fish is the new trend – in restaurants like Can the Can, Sol e Pesca or Pratos com Latas in Lisbon, Maria do Mar in Portimão and there is even a place in London – Tincan –  that has built it’s concept around this – you order the can of your choosing and nibble it with bread.

Putting these curiosities aside and making room for the next best innovation I have seen in quite a while, I am proud to announce that this has been going on in the Algarve (of all places in the country, it’s where few entrepreneurs are seen in action.) Hungry people, epicurieans, pt foodies – I introduce you to Saboreal – jarred preserved fish delicacies. The idea is just amazing, specially the fact that these guys aren’t joking about being unique – besides using jars and an autoclave to prepare the products, they use local fish and sustainable activities to support their business. I salute them, and so should you.

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We have a saying that is “que nem sardinha em lata” which translates to “like a sardine in a can” – this literally means it is a tight space for too many sardines (will also apply to people related circumstances). Now you can buy a jar of artesanal fish, comfortably floating fillets, reuse the vessel instead of trowing away pieces of tin, plus, acknowledge a beautiful presentation in which you can actually see what it is that you are about to eat.

Main differences that I recognized in the products? The texture of the fish is delicious, the fillets don’t shrink dramatically like the canned versions, plus you don’t have to dirty any Tupperware’s in storing away any leftovers – you just screw the lid back on!

I have a series of their products I will test and share with you during the following months – this is take one.

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Besides the fish fillets, they also have a mix of ingredients, like a rustic paté you can just spread on bread and/or cracker. Or just eat it directly out of the jar, like myself.

So I used Cavala – which according to google translation is mackerel – but in my opinion it has always been horse mackerel (because cavala is feminine for horse – makes sense right?). Anyway, I have researched this so many times that horse mackerel seems to be carapau – a fish from the mackerel family. A bit confusing hey? I am not the best with translations, but I do try (at least google it). If anybody has more accurate information about this, please share in the comment section below!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can of garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 jar of Saboreal Preserved Mackerel (olive oil included)
  • Green roasted peppers
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Drain the garbanzo beans and marinate them with salt, pepper, paprika, minced garlic, olive oil that has been used to preserve the fish (use it for it’s flavor, no need to use untainted olive oil, and surely no need to waste the jared one away) and baking soda for at least one hour. If you would like to do this overnight – even best. The baking soda is meant to help break down the beans which results in an even smoother puré.
  2. Puré the garbanzo beans (save 3 tablespoons of intact beans for texture and presentation purposes) in a blender until smooth. Be sure to add at least 5 tablespoons of the remaining fishy olive oil so it becomes extra smooth and flavorful.
  3. Plate the hummus in a bowl, top with the intact garbanzo beans, roasted peppers, deboned and separated filets of mackerel and a squeeze of lemon juice. Decorate with some “sun” dried tomatoes, fresh cilantro and more olive oil to shine it up!
  4. Cut some slices of bread (I went healthy this day and bought a malt seed rich loaf at the local german bakery).       sem título-500
  5. Eat, dip and nibble til your heart is content.

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Healthy nosh with the right sort of carbohydrates, the best proteins and plenty of healthy fat from the olive oil and juicy fish.

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Bom petisco!

Olive Oil Chocolate Mousse

First of all, I have to thank my dear friend N (i’m not spelling his whole name, but he knows it’s him!) for providing this healthy recipe of one of the most decadent desserts I know.

Don’t take me wrong, I love butter! But olive oil in a mousse? Chocolate mousse?! That’s just plain nutrition genius.

up above mousse

Best topping for a chocolate mousse? Salt. Pink pepper is also very nice.

Besides giving you the recipe, I’m also going to share my cooking experience by adding more or less sugar and chocolate to the mix. Obviously the best recipe is the one with more sugar and chocolate! And I’m about to explain why.

mousse with me

If you look closely at the spoon, you can actually see me taking the picture!

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The first attempt was the low cal recipe, where one tablespoon of sugar per egg is added, with 100 grams of dark unsweetened chocolate and two tablespoons of olive oil.

Ingredients:

  • 7 eggs (separated)
  • 7 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 100 grams of dark unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Procedure: Melt the chocolate with the olive oil and the salt (save some for sprinkling before serving), making sure it does not pass 50ºC. Beat the yolks with the sugar. Incorporate the melted chocolate (when luke warm). Beat the egg whites. Fold the yolk mix into the whites, gently. Spoon into ramekins and let set in the fridge at least one hour before serving.

Now, the low cal recipe was quite a challenge, as I noticed the egg whites didn’t set very well (no added sugar, and don’t expect cream of tartar will do the trick, it is great for an even whiter effect, but not so good at maintaining the whip). The lack of sugar also contributes to a faulty consistency, besides using half the chocolate, which led to lack of cohesiveness. By the next day, the mousse had egg white at the bottom, and just didn’t have the right fluff to it, especially because there was too much available water, ready to leak and ooze out of the protein web (the richer the web, with chocolate, sugar and fat, the easier it will solidify and prevent separation, in a cold envoirment).

The best version of this recipe, decadently delicious and healthy (just because it doesn’t have butter!), has double the chocolate (yum) and four more tablespoons of sugar.

So the best recipe is here:

  • 7 eggs (separated)
  • 11 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 200 grams of dark unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

close up mousse

A trick my patisserie teacher taught me in my second year of college was to slightly warm up the egg whites, until it is warm to the touch, before beating. This supposedly helps keep the whites from separating while in the fridge for prolonged periods of time. As a fact I have researched this, it seems to be quite an antique procedure, for when electrical appliances were scarce, and beating was done manually. I do it anyway, as I can tell a difference, specially when making lemon merengue pie. Just remember to do this over a pan of hot water, and keep stirring and checking, so the mix doesn’t coagulate. It also helps build them and maintains them steady through cold environment without separating the water from the protein. By the time the egg whites are warm, you can start beating, and add two tablespoons of the sugar when they are nearly ready.

The procedure for this recipe is the same as the previous low cal version. Remember to eat within the following three days (raw eggs).

side mousse

If your mousse sets like this on it’s side, then you made a good consistent recipe.

Reading Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen will help you understand the science of making a mousse, even if you are a kitchen newby – this is where I got all the information for this post. It is also my food bible.

Another plus about adding the extra sugar and chocolate, is the fact that you don’t even notice the olive oil flavor (for whoever does not appreciate it). Sorry if you are diabetic, I cannot help you with this one (you can try adding frutose, I personally don’t appreciate it because of the metallic after flavor, or isomalt).

Something I have to warn you about this recipe is using raw eggs. If you are a food professional like I am, you know that in your establishment you should apply HACCP knowledge and pasteurization techniques, but it’s also a harder process to achieve good mousse like consistency. By applying the bombe technique, the eggs lose aeration properties, and so lingers the need to use gelatin leaves, which gives a hell of a lot more trouble, and will alter the flavor. Non the less, you should try it out, push your patisserie capacities to the limit, so you can understand why this and that happens!

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Look how the mousse stays steady on the spoon – that’s the perfect, fluffy, gorgeous consistency a mousse should have.

spoon 2 mousse

Not pasteurizing eggs is a microbiological hazard, it is a petri dish of salmonellas, possibly a few campylobacter’s and plenty other egg loving bacteria. But hey, so many, and I mean soooo many people, including chefs and food eccentrics have risky eating habits, like raw oysters that are very dangerous because of the toxins that can act in seconds, leaving you near your death bed (PSP, DSP, NSP and ASP). Oh, the irony. But as Anthony Bourdain once said, “Your body is an amusement park. So enjoy the ride.”. This guy knows stuff.

Make the damn mousse with raw eggs, you will live.

If you are, however, prone to food disease or have a weak imune system, I advise you to purchase pasteurized eggs, or research how to do la bombe technique, where you pasteurize the eggs, with a 121ºC sugar syrup. For smaller quantities, you can use a microwave until the eggs, sugar and a bit of water reach 85ºC (the water is necessary, as it will evaporate, if it is not present, the eggs will scramble) and then beat till cool. Although this is the safest technique, and highly required in the restaurant business, it does lack substance and successful aerating. To counteract this, use gelatin leaves and whipped cream. But that’s a whole other recipe itself, far away from the purpose of this one, which is to opt for a dairy free ingredient.

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empty mousse

I used a leftover jam jar and a white ribbon, for presentation purposes. But I also choose many different jars, with different sizes, because everyone wants a certain amount.

nearly empty mousse

I couldn’t help myself. I had to eat it while photographing for this post.empty empty mousse

About the olive oil to use, and the best that Portugal can offer, I’m saving that for a future post. I think I might have overwhelmed you a bit with too much technical/scientific patisserie information. So – Keep Calm and make that mousse! 🙂