Few items in the produce aisle are as fleshy as figs. If Portobellos are the steak of the mushroom kingdom, then figs are the steak tartar of the fruit world. It’s exactly this fleshiness that scared me off.

That is until last October. Almost a year ago to date I had my first encounter with fresh figs, picked straight from the tree of our friends the McCauls right here in Palo Alto. Mike was doing an away rotation at Stanford Hospital, long before we knew we’d be moving here, and the McCauls graciously offered to host him for the month.

When I flew out for a weekend visit, as a special treat we picked a few figs from the tree and sliced them in half with a sprinkle of sea salt. I inhaled a deep breath, sniffed the striated pink flesh, and took a bite—delicious!

Since fresh fig season doesn’t last forever and can be pricey, I’d like to share two recipes that capitalize on dried figs. For Christmas last year we made fig and pistachio biscotti using a recipe courtesy of Proud Italian Cook; they were some of the best biscotti I’ve had.

And given how nicely the sweet and savory flavors of figs and pistachios cozy up together, this second recipe really caught my eye.

The focus of today’s post is a fig and pistachio olive oil cake from cupcake extraordinaire Ming Thompson. Here is the original recipe.

Fig and pistachio cake

Don’t be intimidated by the recipe’s length; it’s not as difficult as it looks at first glance. You can also make all three components (cake, compote, frosting) ahead of time and then assembly before serving if that helps break up the labor. I think all told I spent an hour and a half baking this cake, but I’m a slow baker.

The cake is more savory than sweet and the crumb is a touch on the dry side, but with a scoop of vanilla ice cream it’s just right. Enjoy!

Pistachio Olive Oil Cake with Fig Compote Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

By Ming Thompson

Fig Compote Filling
1.5 cups whole dried figs
1.5 cups water
the juice of one orange (about 1/3 cup)
a couple dashes of salt
2 T honey

Chop figs into small chunks, about the size of peanuts. Cook in a saucepan with water, juice, and salt until figs are soft and water is evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add honey and cook for a minute more. Let cool.

Pistachio Olive Oil Cake

1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 8×8 inch baking pan with olive oil.

Place pistachios in food processor. Pulse until the texture of small gravel; remove about half. Pulse the rest until the texture of coarse sand.

In a bowl, combine finely ground pistachios, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Stir until well combined. Add oil and milk. Beat with an electric mixer until blended. Add eggs and lemon juice and beat until mixed. Stir in the coarsely ground pistachios. Pour batter into greased pan. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until edges are lightly brown, and inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 stick butter, room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese
2 cups confectioners sugar (I used agave syrup; far less, probably ½ cup)

Mash ingredients together until roughly combined. Beat with an electric mixer on high until creamy and well-combined.


After cake is cool, slice in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Spoon filling evenly onto bottom layer, replace top layer, and frost with cream cheese frosting. Top with additional pistachios.

Thanks to Natalie for letting me use her pretty blue plate!

Slice of savory