Fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frosting

My dad’s 50th birthday was on Friday. I emailed him to ask what his favorite cake was.

His helpful response: “I never met a cake I didn’t like.”

Given free reign like that, I decided to do something a little different. Something he’d never order in a restaurant or ask for someone to make him, but that would still knock his socks off.

I also wanted to make something summery because of his late August, dog days of summer birthday. S’mores cake? Eh, I’ve made it in cupcake form before and wanted to try something new. Chocolate-orange? Nah, that seems like more of a cold weather one to me. I thumbed through All Cakes Considered for ideas. I hemmed. I hawed. I pondered.

Eventually I got stuck on my favorite thing about summer: figs. The rest came together pretty quickly after that. A fluffy white cake with a fig jam in the middle. A light, whipped honey meringue buttercream on top. Not too heavy, but certainly tooth-achingly sweet. Good for the kids.

But I wanted to slightly temper the sugar rush for the adults. Something herby. Which of course led to my favorite fig accompaniment, thyme. It’s piney, but not too piney like rosemary sometimes is. It doesn’t overpower the delicate honey flavor in the frosting, but it does effectively counter the sweetness while adding a little flair of its own.

Of course, the best part of this flavor combo is that I can say that I made my dad a fig-tieth birthday cake, on account of him being alive for a long thyme.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry!

I cut plain slices for my niece and nephew, then said to my dad, sister, and brother: “I didn’t think the kids would like this, but if you’d like I can put some fresh thyme over your piece of cake.”

Sister: “What’s thyme?”
Brother: “That sounds really weird. But usually when you try to get me to eat something weird, it’s good, so okay.”
Father: “If you say so.”

I sprinkled a few leaves over each piece of cake. I could tell they didn’t trust me one bit.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingThen they tasted it. “I can’t believe that’s… actually really good.” Well gee, thanks for trusting my judgement, folks. But I knew I had a winner when my sister and dad both took tiny slivers for seconds, and chose to add thyme to them completely of their own volition.

My dad knows I post my recipes on the internet. He saw me taking my photos and figured (correctly) that they were for a post. He said, “People aren’t going to think that’s good when they read the recipe. It’s too weird. They’re not going to realize how good it tastes and they won’t make it.”

It’s not that weird. Prove him wrong.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingFig and Thyme White Cake with Whipped Honey Frosting
Adapted from Whipped Cream Cake by Melissa Gray in All Cakes Considered and Brown Sugar Meringue Buttercream from Sky High Cakes as posted on Completely Delicious

Serves 10 to 12

Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup whipping cream
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Frosting:
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
9.6 ounces (about 19 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into chunks

Garnish:
scant 1/2 cup fig jam, at room temperature
fresh thyme leaves, stripped from woody stalks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray two 8-inch pans, then line with a parchment paper circle. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, beat eggs until thick and pale yellow. Set both aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip cream on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Add beaten eggs and beat again until fully integrated and foamy. Add sugar and extracts and beat again for about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed until barely combined — there should still be some visible flour. Use a spatula to fold the ingredients the rest of the way to avoid over mixing.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans, then put in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, removing when a toothpick comes out clean. If your oven heats unevenly, swap positions of the two layers about 10 minutes into the baking time.

Place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Use a knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan, then flip out onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom and let cool completely.

For the frosting, there’s a little bit of timing involved in making this all work. Start by combining the water, sugar, and honey in a small saucepan. Do not yet put it over the heat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form.

Put sugar solution over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil. Once it is boiling, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer. Book without stirring until it reaches 238 degrees F (soft ball stage).

Turn the mixer with the egg whites back on medium speed. Carefully pour the hot (seriously, really really hot, be careful) sugar mixture in a thin stream into the egg whites. Try not to hit the beater or the side of the bowl.

Once the sugar syrup has been added, raise the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is down to room temperature (touch the side of the bowl to check). This will take several minutes.

With the mixture still running, add the butter cubes a few tablespoons full at a time. Once all the butter has been added, continue to beat until smooth. The mixture may start to look curdled at one point, especially if your butter was a little too cold or too warm. Just let the mixer keep running and it will work itself out. Once the frosting is smooth, creamy, and light you’re good to go.

Put one cake layer on a serving plate or pedestal. I’m no expert cake decorator by a long-shot, but the best tip I can give for tidier looking cakes is to line the plate with strips of parchment paper tucked under the cake before you frost it. Try this! It really helps your cake look better to not have frosting smeared all over the plate.

Spread the fig jam evenly over the first layer. Then using an offset spatula, spread a small layer of frosting on top of the fig jam. Go almost all the way to the edge. Top with the second cake layer, then frost the top and sides to coat.

Sprinkle fresh thyme over the top of the cake, then serve.

Fig and onion pizza with quail eggs; adorable but odiferous

As you may know, I love putting eggs on top of things. One of the things I’ve been wanting to try is egg on pizza.

This is totally a thing! The lava-hot pizza comes out of the oven, an egg is cracked in the middle, and it cooks from the residual heat. Then you slice it up and everyone has some delightful drippy egg on their piece. Yum.

Yum, but, you know — drippy.

There has to be a better way, right? And after some pondering, I realized… quail eggs! Their diminutive size ensures that you get it in one bite. You still get the yolk explosion, just in your mouth instead of all over your plate. Not to mention, with them evenly dotted over the top you can ensure that there’s enough egg for everyone to be satisfied.

fig and onion pizza with quail eggs fig and onion pizza with quail eggs

For even more fun, I swapped out a tomato base for another idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while: a pizza sauce made out of caramelized onions.

fig and onion pizza with quail eggs

Not a date night pizza, I guess.

But man, oh man, is it good.

The caramelized onion plays beautifully with the sweetness of fresh crushed thyme and fig jam, one of my favorite combinations. The bitterness of the arugula and the smoky, salty cheese balances it all out.

What I’m saying is, it’s good. Real good. And if you make the caramelized onions and pizza dough ahead of time, it’s quick.

You could even be horrible like me and use store-bought pizza dough. Nobody will complain, I promise.

Fig and Onion Pizza with Quail Eggs

Serves 2-4

1 ball pizza dough (use your favorite recipe or store bought)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 heaping cup caramelized onions *
1 tablespoon fig jam
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
pinch hot smoked paprika
1 cup arugula
3.5 ounces smoked provolone cheese, shredded
2 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
9 quail eggs
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

With a fork, stir caramelized onions and jam together until fully combined. Sprinkle thyme leaves in onions, crushing them between your fingers as you do. Add a pinch of smoked paprika, and stir again to combine. Set aside.

Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your pizza pan.

Preheat oven and your pizza pan according to the recipe for your dough — usually around 450 degrees.

Stretch or roll your dough balls to fit the pieces of parchment paper. I’ve found this pizza dough how-to to be helpful.

Brush olive oil on crust with a pastry brush. Then spread the caramelized onion mixture on top of the oiled dough with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle dough evenly with arugula, then top with both types of cheese.

Pick up the parchment papered pie and slide onto the preheated pan in the oven. Bake according to the directions for your dough recipe, minus 4 minutes.

Remove pizza from oven. Crack eggs evenly over the surface. Pop back into the oven to cook the rest of the way, until crust is golden and the egg whites are solid.

Grind coarsely cracked black pepper over the whole thing, then cut into slices and enjoy immediately.

** If you have a recipe you love for caramelizing onions, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, go ahead and do this. This recipe will make enough for the pizza… but since caramelized onions takes so long, just double/triple/quadruple it, please! My last batch was 9 pounds… (6 pounds lacto-veg, 3 pounds vegan). Freeze them in 1/2 cup portions so you can savor them at a moment’s notice.

Caramelized Onions
1/2 lb yellow onions (about 1 small to medium onion)
1 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch sugar

Thinly slice the onions in half moons. In a medium pot, heat oil and butter over low heat. Add sliced onions and toss to fully coat. Cover and leave for 15 minutes to soften.
Remove lid and raise the heat slightly. Add in salt and sugar, then cook and stir onions frequently for about 30 more minutes — you want them to be paper lunch bag brown, and for the texture to be gelatinous, almost like preserves or marmalade. These can be refrigerated or frozen for later use. If using immediately, set aside to cool. You’ll be left with approximately 1/4 cup of caramelized onions.