Just last week, I was teasing the fishmonger for falling head over heels for a pie crust. And now, here I am, crumpled at the feet of an applesauce bunt cake.
It was a hasty romance, tied up in anticipation of a friend's fast approaching birthday and an afternoon whir of fallen leaves. I'd called my mother; it was 5pm. I have to have made a cake, showered, and driven to a party by 6:30pm, I pleaded. Got a recipe in mind?
She did. Once we'd established that I had a jar of applesauce (just made, and perfectly pink), and a bunt cake pan on hand, she began streaming orders. Two sticks of butter, she commanded. Two cups sugar, two cups applesauce, 3 cups flour. It went on like this; me scrambling for cinnamon and nutmeg, spoonfuls of vanilla and baking soda pouring in, and a last minute combing of the cupboards for anything remotely like raisins.
Figs are what I turned up in the end. They were perfect, really, leftover from our summer roommates and long forgotten amidst corn starch and oats. I chopped them to bits, stirring gently, and poured the cake into a well-buttered pan. Upside down, it cooked, baking through my shower, the inevitable outfit dilemma, and right up to the honking of an eager horn. In the nick of time it flipped, still steaming, onto a serving platter and out to the car.
When it was finally cool and cut, I was startled by how deep I felt it. The moist crumbs seemed to rumble in my mouth, reverberating through the hollows and dancing off my tongue. It was warm, autumnal, eager—rife with thick, seedy figs and the gentle specter of apples. In short, there was little I could do to resist.
The others seemed to feel the same—gulping down thick chunks of the stuff, until finally nothing but golden crumbs remained soft on the plate. I called my mother to thank her, later, describing the tumbling hunger and the quick disappearance of it all, and she said my father had made it first. He doesn't bake much, but when he does, he doesn't miss.
APPLESAUCE FIG CAKE
(adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch bunt pan. In a mixing bowl, cream 2 sticks butter with 2 cups sugar. Add 2 cups applesauce and 1 teaspoon vanilla; mix well. Sift in dry ingredients: 1 and 1/2 cups white flour, 1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons baking soda. Add 1 cup chopped figs*; stir well. Pour batter into bunt pan and cook approximately 1 hour, or until firm but moist. Let cool in pan 15 minutes; turn onto serving plate and let cool completely.
*Fig trees can survive in our area as long as they are well protected over the winter. They go dormant during periods when temperatures stay between 20 and 40 degrees (F). Their roots and trunk base can be well insulated with wood chips or other thermal protection and they will do quite well outside. The fruit makes one of the best treats both fresh and dried.