Great British Bake Off 2019 finalist Steph Blackwell bakes up a Sticky Fig, Coffee and Hazelnut Cake
- Credit: Steph Blackwell
Winter is coming… Not to put a downer on things but I can’t cope. September still has glimmers of sunshine, but all I can think of is coldness, darkness, and the impending doom of what’s to come – welcome to an article in the art of positive thinking.
To soften the blow, and give myself both a focus and something to comfort me in my woeful state, I decided I had to make a stress-busting cake that involved a few different elements and a bit of artistic creativity so I could stand back and use the phrase, ‘lookin gooood’. A kind of pat on my own back – I know, sad times, right?
OK so, I know I’ve been here before with coffee and hazelnut, but it might just be making another appearance because, well frankly, these two ingredients are just made for each other. I’ve got to admit, when I dreamed up this recipe, I was slightly sceptical that it would produce something worth sharing, but I can confirm I was wrong to be a cynic; it’s quite magical.
Being a sticky toffee pudding fan, I wondered if I could devise something that combined all the sticky toffee-ness and a hint of spice, with the nostalgia of coffee cake and complementary roasted hazelnuts instead of walnuts.
Traditionally, sticky toffee pudding includes dates, however, figs are in season right now and they are truly stunning works of fruity art, so they got the call-up. I’ve opted for a subtly spiced cream cheese frosting because it’s the best, right? And a cheeky little caramel drip, which turned out remarkably well – full disclosure – I’m terrible at ‘dripping’ unless it’s unintentional, in which case, drips galore – like down my clothes.
Finally, I’ve topped it with some of those beautiful fresh figs and some roasted hazelnuts, plus a few sprigs of random shrubbery (rosemary and lavender) from the garden – purely aesthetic.
I apologise if you’re not a fan of coffee, fig, or hazelnut for that matter, but if you are prepared to find a friend who is, or if you can bear to give this cake a chance, I think you may be pleasantly surprised.
Sophisticated, decadent, and downright delicious, this is just perfect with a cuppa mid-afternoon. Or for breakfast/lunch/dinner – I’m not judging.
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Steph Blackwell's Sticky Fig, Coffee and Hazeknut Cake
80g dried figs chopped into small pieces
75ml strong brewed coffee
75g roasted blanched hazelnuts
200g soft unsalted butter
225g light brown muscovado sugar
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
50g natural yoghurt
180g unsalted butter
270g Icing sugar
180g tub cream cheese (at room temperature)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt
75g caster sugar
85ml double cream – heated for 10 to 20 seconds in the microwave until lukewarm
½ tsp vanilla bean paste
pinch of salt
A handful of hazelnuts (roasted and optionally dipped in hard caramel)
3-4 small fresh figs
*Note: the frosting and caramel yield more than enough. They can both be served as an accompaniment or used on other cakes/bakes. The caramel can also be kept in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the fridge – slightly warm before serving.
1. Chop the dried figs into small pieces and place in a bowl, cover with the coffee and leave for a 30mins to 1 hour to soak.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan, gas 4, and grease and line 3 x 6-inch cake tins. Pulse the roasted hazelnuts in a food processor until finely ground – don’t over pulse or the oils will release from the nuts. Having soaked the figs and coffee, add to the processor with the nuts and pulse again to form a paste – it will have visible bits in it – ie, not puréed – but it should be well combined.
3. Next, measure the remaining sponge ingredients into the bowl of a free-standing mixer, add the fig/coffee/hazelnut mixture and beat on a medium speed for around 1 minute or until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat a final time for 20 seconds.
4. Distribute the cake batter evenly in the cake tins (don’t overfill your tins) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Once baked, leave to stand in the tins for 5 minutes before carefully turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
5. While the cakes are cooling, make the caramel. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Leave until it turns a deep amber colour. Remove from the heat and carefully add the lukewarm cream a little at a time, stirring constantly. Once all of the cream has been added, add a pinch of salt and the vanilla. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and set aside to cool.
6. Next prepare the frosting, ensure the cream cheese is at room temperature and pour off any liquid. In a stand mixer, beat the soft butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the cinnamon, vanilla, lemon juice and salt, then beat for a further minute.
7. Add half of the tub of cream cheese and beat on a low speed until just incorporated, use a spoon to scrape around the bottom of the bowl and add the remaining cream cheese, again beat on a low speed until just combined. If the mixture is a bit loose, chill in the fridge in 10-minute intervals, stirring each time. Keep an eye on it, you don’t want it to firm up too much, just until it’s a nice spreadable consistency. Once ready, leave at room temperature until ready to use.
8. Assemble the cake, trim any doming off the top of each cake layer using a sharp serrated knife. Next place the first layer on a cake board, add a dollop of the frosting and smooth using a palette knife, add the next cake layer and repeat with a layer of frosting before adding the final cake layer – flip this layer such that the flat bottom becomes the top for a neater finish to the final cake. Ensure the cake is neatly layered and straight before adding a thin crumb coat of the frosting around the sides and top.
9. Transfer to the fridge to chill – around 30 minutes to 1 hour. Once chilled, remove and add a second thin coat of frosting on the top and sides of the cake and neaten with a cake scraper until smooth.
10. Decorate with a caramel drip around the top circumference of the cake before spreading a thin layer of caramel over the entire top surface, arrange the fresh figs in the centre of the cake and scatter over the whole toasted hazelnuts.
11. Add sprigs of rosemary/foliage for a truly autumnal vibe. Serve with any extra frosting/caramel and enjoy.