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Fig and Lemon Olive Oil Cake and a photo tip

After conversing over the blogosphere with her for the last several months, I finally met Stacey of “Stacey Snacks” face-to-face.
Stacey’s recipes and photos gets me drooling first thing every morning, and I borrowed this recipe for fig and lemon cake from her blog. Lucky for me she lives in New Jersey and comes to Princeton fairly often for business. She was also kind enough to teach me a new function on my little point and shoot Canon camera that I’ll share with you now.

This shot of a bowl of frozen figs thawing out was taken indoors in my kitchen at night, with regular tungsten light bulbs overhead. Little did I know that you could change your camera’s setting to adjust for the light source, including florescent lighting. Here’s what my photo looked like before I changed it to the tungsten light bulb setting. It had been set on the default setting that came with the camera and doesn’t look so great with that yellow-y overtone does it?
A couple of little clicks on the back of the camera where you set it to a little icon that looks like a lightbulb and you’ve got this instead. What a difference. Thanks Stacey.
Now that it stays light longer into the evening, I will try to use natural light more often, but it’s great to know that my camera has this function for those times when I’m relying on indoor lights. If you’ve got Photoshop (which I don’t), you may also be able to change the white balance in the editing.

On to the cake! Stacey used dried figs for her cake, but I had stashed some fresh figs in the freezer last September and I figured it was time to use some of them. I had both the purple and the green kind put away and used a little of each variety. The cake was delicious with the fresh figs, but I have a feeling that for this recipe, the dried figs might be even better, with their concentrated sweet flavor and chewiness.Here’s the finished cake. Stacey’s recipe follows.Fig & Lemon Olive Oil Cake: (inspired by Martha Stewart)
Stacey’s recipe calls for a removable bottom tart pan, but I used a ceramic tart pan instead. Just make sure to grease it thoroughly first.

2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for pan
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 oz. package of dried figs, chopped (I used about 1 1/2 cups of frozen figs that had been thawed)
zest of one lemon
1 tsp of fresh chopped rosemary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or a cake pan lined with parchment paper) with oil; set aside.

In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil, milk, and egg; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; add milk mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula just until smooth (do not over mix).

Gently fold in figs and lemon zest and rosemary.
Spread batter in prepared pan; set pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Casale Sonnino Olive Oil

If you read this blog, you care about food and the basic ingredients you use in your cooking, including extra virgin Italian olive oil.

But are you really using extra virgin Italian olive oil? Or are you the unsuspecting owner of a bottle of hazelnut oil from Turkey, or sunflower oil from Argentina?

It’s not so easy to know, even if you buy olive oil that you think is a well-known, well-respected, international brand. A lot has been written about fraud in the industry, including a well documented piece written a while ago in the New Yorker Magazine entitled “Slippery Business,” the trade in adulterated olive oil.

Aside from the question of whether it’s really olive oil, there’s little way of knowing (assuming it is olive oil), how the olives and trees were grown and maintained, whether they were overly sprayed with pesticide days before picking, whether they were sitting around too long before milling, subject to bruising, whether all the olives came from Italy or whether the oil in the bottle really was the first cold pressing.

Casale Sonnino, vineyards and olive trees

That’s something I don’t give a second thought to when I buy olive oil from Casale Sonnino, a villa and vineyard in the hills outside Rome owned by my friend Clo Sonnino Treves.

The olives from the 700 trees on her property are hand picked by a small group of local women in the traditional manner. Nets are strung below the olive trees to capture any falling fruit before they hit the ground to prevent bruising. The olives are transported within days to a local mill, where Clo’s son George supervises the pressing from start to finish. I can always be sure that their extra virgin olive oil is the first cold pressing from estate grown olives. Like grapes, olives for oil come in many varieties. Casale Sonnino olive oil uses Broccanica, Rosciola, Venina and the Tuscan Leccino.

Clo’s daughter Claire says that last November’s harvest produced a bumper crop and the most delicious batch in recent memory.

Casale Sonnino

I’m planning to put my order in soon since the shipment arrives from Italy in February. You should too if you want to try a truly artisanal, truly exquisite, unadulterated extra virgin olive oil. Contact Claire to find out about prices and/or place your order. She can be reached by email at claire@casalesonnino or at 516-767-7188.

She can also tell you about the Casale itself, an 18th century ancestral home that is rented out by the week to vacationing family groups, artists and travelers all year long. Their website is www.casalesonnino.com