Snow days are gifts from nature. A day to stay in your pajamas and spend time doing things that make you happy. The first real snow day of this winter happened a little bit after Christmas…technically it wasn’t snowing when I woke up, but it had the night before and I had the day off so it just felt like it was a real snow day. But, really, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I decided to bake something. To just whip something up. I had leftover dried figs from a Christmas party, along with an orange. So I decided to put them to use. And also test out my skills as a baker and former culinary student. The risk is that by going off of nothing, I might just make a molten lava muffin or some dry and tasteless concoction that even Dorothy Zbornack would be appalled by.
A great starting point is the pound cake. A pound of butter, a pound of eggs, a pound of flour, a pound of milk. That’ll make a cake. So knowing that, you adjust and tweak until you get something that resembles a recipe. It’s a good bit of knowledge to have in your arsenal. Along with knowing that you want to have about 1 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour. The rest is all technique. It’s nice when you realize that your second career is actually paying off.
As for the pan that you bake it all in, that’s completely up to you. Little loaf pans work, as do muffin pans, whatever you have. You can even use a regular size loaf pan, and then just slice it. Technically, I don’t even know if this counts as a tea cake, but it’s small, so I’m going to pretend…maybe that’s bad and I should do some research on it. But, you know, in the end, it’s really about the fig and the orange (and the rum!).
8 oz salted butter, softened
4 oz granulated sugar
4 oz vanilla sugar
3 large eggs
Juice & zest of 1 orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground clove
pinch of kosher salt
9 oz all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
4 oz sour cream
1.5 cups diced, dried fig
QS dark rum
QS confectioner’s sugar
QS dark rum
QS orange liqueur
QS orange juice
In a small saucepan, add the figs and pour in the rum until it just covers the delicious dried fruit that will soon be made even more delicious. Bring to a simmer, cover and turn off the heat. Set aside.
Start preheating your oven to 375ºF.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugars. Beat on medium until it becomes pale, light & fluffy. Scrape the sides.
Meanwhile, throw together the eggs, orange juice, orange zest and extracts. Don’t mix. Just put them all in the same bowl or measuring cup and set it aside. Next, measure out all of the dry ingredients (cinnamon, clove, salt, flour and baking powder) into a vessel large to hold it all. Blend together with your hands, a fork or a whisk. And you know what? Set that aside too!
Back at the mixer, turn it off and scrape down the sides. Add in one egg and whatever wet ingredients come with it. Beat it in on low to medium until combined. Scrape the sides down again and repeat until all the eggs and wet ingredients are incorporated into the batter.
Scrape the bowl and paddle once more. Add in a third of the dry ingredients. Turn the mixer on low and let it come together. Add in half of the sour cream. Mix. Add in another third of dry ingredients. Mix. Then the rest of the sour cream. Mix. Now add in the rest of the dry ingredients. And…wait for it…mix!!
Once it’s all been mixed, scrape the bowl sides, clean off the paddle and then add in the figs (you’ll want to drain them first, but reserve the liquid for the glaze). Fold them in with a spatula so you don’t over mix the batter.
Grease & flour your baking vessel (muffin tins, mini pans, etc.,) unless you’re using lined muffin cups or you have a dishwasher that you really really hate (obviously). Drop in the batter so it fills up whatever your filling about three quarters, smooth out with a spoon dipped in hot water. At this point, you could top them with sanding sugar, some more dried figs or even some nuts.
Pop them in your oven. They will take about 30 to 35 minutes. Rotate them at least once during the baking process. They’re done when they are a deep golden brown on top. When you touch the top it will be firm, but spring slightly. Don’t bother with a toothpick (but if you want to, you can…it should not be wet when you take it out).
Let cool slightly on a wire rack (5 or 10 minutes) in their pans. During this time, make the glaze. Take about a cup of confectioners sugar and add in a little rum & triple sec. Mix with a spoon. You want the glaze to be runny, but somewhat thick. If it’s too thin, it will just run right down the sides, if it’s too thick, it won’t move. The beauty of the glaze is that it’s too thick, add more liquid. If it’s too liquid, add more confectioners sugar. Once the right consistency is reached, you’re ready to glaze.
But first (that’s for you Julie Chen), you need to take out your cakes from their pans and place them on the wire rack. Put a piece of parchment underneath the rack (or you’ll be sad during cleanup). Spoon the glaze over the tops, using the spoon to push it towards the edges and letting it drip down. Do two coats of the glaze. You want to glaze while they’re still warm so that it will soak up a bit of the flavor.
Let them finish cooling. Then eat them. Maybe make some tea.