Pastry chefs are coming up with fantastic new ways to use herbs in desserts. Elizabeth Dahl of Chicago's Boka makes a brilliant olive oil cake that’s tender, moist and delicately flavored with fresh thyme. She tops it with lush figs tossed with sugar, black pepper and more thyme; as the fruit sits in the sugar, its juices thicken to form a luscious syrup.
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3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons pastry flour
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons bread flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 large egg whites
1 pound fresh figs, quartered or sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped thyme, plus 12 thyme sprigs for garnish
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup crème fraîche
How to Make It
Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper and coat lightly with nonstick vegetable oil spray. In a medium bowl, stir the pastry flour with the bread flour and baking powder. In a large bowl, mix the egg yolks with the olive oil, water, thyme, salt and vanilla and 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the sugar. With a handheld electric mixer, beat the egg yolk mixture at medium speed until very frothy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and mix at low speed until the flour is fully incorporated.
In a clean bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until the egg whites are thick and glossy, about 4 minutes. Scoop a cup of the beaten egg whites into the batter and stir until combined. Fold the remaining egg whites into the batter until no streaks remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes, until the cake is golden and starts to pull away from the side. Set the pan on a rack and let the cake cool completely, about 1 hour.
In a medium bowl, toss the figs with the sugar, olive oil, chopped thyme, black pepper and salt. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, until the figs begin to soften and release their juices.
Cut the cake into 12 rectangles and transfer to plates. Spoon the figs and their juices over the cake slices, top each slice with a dollop of crème fraîche and a thyme sprig and serve at once.
The cooled cake can be covered tightly with plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 1 day.
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