Chocolate Walnut Fig Cake with Grappa and Cardamom Cream

January 29, 2010
0 Ratings
  • Makes one 9-inch cake
Author Notes

This moist, rich cake was inspired by a Ligurian (Italian) recipe called "Torta di Noci e Canditi" from Michele Scicolone's book, La Dolce Vita. I used the same proportions of chocolate, eggs, and sugar in the recipe, but changed up the ingredients a bit to showcase my favorites: walnuts, which are traditional, with figs and grappa. For good measure, I also add a dollop of whipped cream spiked with cardamom. One bite and you'll know you've really found the sweet life. [A couple notes on ingredients: It makes a difference to use very soft dried figs; sometimes, though, you end up with tough ones, and in that case, you might want to try plumping the figs first in a bit of warm water. If you do this, make sure to drain and pat dry the figs, though, to avoid excess moisture in the cake. For the grappa, I like to use a lovely citrus tree honey grappa from Nonino Gioiello, but you should use whatever you have on hand; for baking, you do not need an expensive one.] —Allison Cay Parker

What You'll Need
  • Chocolate Walnut Fig Cake with Grappa
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1-1/3 cups walnuts
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons grappa
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped dried figs (small dice), stalk ends removed
  • confectioner's sugar for dusting (optional)
  • Cardamom Whipped Cream
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  1. Chocolate Walnut Fig Cake with Grappa
  2. With a rack set in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and lightly flour a 9-inch springform cake pan, tapping out excess flour.
  3. Place the chocolate in a food processor fitted with a steel blade (or in a blender with food-processing capabilities), and give it a few whirls to chop further. Add walnuts and process until finely ground.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until well blended. Gradually add 1/3 cup of the sugar and beat until fully incorporated; the mixture should be thickened, almost fluffy, and very light in color. Beat in the grappa, then beat in the chocolate-walnut mixture and the figs.
  5. With clean beaters on high speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Beat in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and continue until soft peaks form.
  6. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate to lighten. Gradually fold in the rest of the egg whites, combining thoroughly but using as few strokes as possible.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake is puffed but the center is still moist. Cool completely on a wire rack. The cake will fall a bit and shrink away from the sides of the pan; that's fine. When the cake is cooled, run a spatula or knife around the rim and release the sides of the pan.
  8. If desired, sprinkled the cake with a light dusting of confectioner's sugar.
  1. Cardamom Whipped Cream
  2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat on high speed until soft peaks form (or to your desired consistency). Serve alongside slices of cake.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rissako
  • Sagegreen
  • Jennifer Ann
    Jennifer Ann
  • gluttonforlife
  • EmilyNunn

40 Reviews

Mike B. May 4, 2018
I have made this cake many times, and it is one of my favorites. Sometimes I also substitute dried apricot for half of the figs, and it is incredible. I also use the Lindt dark chocolate with Orange for 3 ounces of the chocolate (the other half I use the 70% dark version). Truly a spectacular cake no matter what you do to it! Thank you for such an awesome recipe.
kate H. November 17, 2016
Can this cake be made the day before serving ? How does it hold up ? And can it be frozen?
manelly October 8, 2014
We make this cake every fall when we harvest fresh figs. In fact, we make several and freeze some of them to take out and eat over the winter. It is a wonderful gluten free dessert and easy. Just let it thaw, whip up the cardamom cream and enjoy.
Rissako March 7, 2012
Hi, this recipe sounds incredible and I can't wait to make it tomorrow night. Quick question: While shopping for ingredients, I was faced with a few choices of dried figs. I bought black mission. That should be fine, right? If not, I can easily go back tomorrow and get either Turkish or Calimyrna instead. Thanks so much!
Allison C. March 8, 2012
Hello, Rissako. When it comes to dried figs, I usually have Calimyrna on hand, but there was no purposeful choice to use these versus other figs--it's generally just what's in my pantry. I wouldn't hesitate to use the Black Mission ones; I'm sure it'll be fine. If you have the time and inclination to report back and let me know how it worked, though, that'd be lovely.

Thanks for trying the recipe and for leaving your comment. Hope it's a big hit.
Rissako March 10, 2012
LOVED this recipe! I wound up using a 50-50 mix of the black mission figs that I had and some Turkish figs that I picked up. It was a big hit indeed. Loved the hint of grappa. And it's so wonderful to find a flourless chocolate cake recipe that doesn't require a stick of butter. (Not that I don't adore butter, but this was a nice alternative.) I'll definitely be baking this again!

Thanks again!
Allison C. March 11, 2012
So glad that you loved the recipe. I couldn't imagine how you could go wrong with your fig selection--but of course I think anything with any fig is fabulous. And if the cake also pleased the others around your table, I'm doubly glad. Thanks for making it and adding it to your "make again" file.
AntoniaJames March 11, 2012
I prefer black missions in recipes such as this as I find them moister, easier to cut into tiny pieces and more deeply flavored. Just found a container of them in fact, hiding in my cupboard. Looking forward to making this again soon! ;o) P.S. For this recipe, I like to spike the cream with a teaspoon or so of Grappa . . . the cardamom holds it own, so it works particularly well. Makes this brilliant cake even better . . . one of my favorite FOOD52 desserts ever. ;o)
Allison C. March 11, 2012
Aw, shucks. Thanks for the lovely compliment and also for your insights on the Black Mission figs. Plus, spiking the whipped cream... never a bad thing IMO. ;-)
Vitaj September 10, 2011
Am making this NOW!! Substituted some homemade honey mead for the grappa, and used fresh figs, so I'm a little nervous about the moisture content. Also, cannot find my 9" springform, though I have a 9" cake pan with a removeable bottom... But worrying about height now, so trying to borrow a springform from a neighbor. You don't mention salt, either, so I will try a pinch just because I generally do. Thanks for this!
Allison C. September 12, 2011
Well... I'd love to hear how it turned out. A pinch of salt can't hurt. I would be concerned about using fresh figs, though. That's going to change the texture of this cake quite a bit. But you may have just invented some completely new thing that's amazing. Whether it resembles my cake or not, I sure hope it worked out to your liking. Thanks for commenting on the recipe.
kelly72 March 4, 2011
Hi can anyone tell me if i can leave the grappa out of this cake as i have kids eating it?? will it make any difference to the cake at all? kelly
Allison C. September 12, 2011
Oh no! Somehow, I never saw this message... from 6 months ago! That's awful. So sorry, Kelly72.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about the grappa--my son eats this cake and likes it. The grappa enhances the cake's flavor, adding depth that I think would really be missed if it weren't there--but that's really just about taste preferences, not about the structure of the cake at all.

If you tried the recipe without the grappa, I'd love to know about it. Again, so very sorry about the lack of a reply.

That said, it's a very little bit (2 tablespoons in an entire cake), plus the alcohol essentially evaporates in baking, so there's no danger to children.
Sagegreen December 9, 2010
Oh my, this looks amazing!
Allison C. December 11, 2010
Thanks! Hope you try it sometime. If you do, let me know how you like it.
mondoray8 December 9, 2010
Thanks you for the response (others, too.) Two it is! Putting together a Moroccan feast for a friend's birthday and the request was for chocolate cake. This sounds like it will be a perfect ending!
mondoray8 December 8, 2010
Help! Having a birthday dinner for 14, and a 9" cake will only feed 2/3s of the table.Thinking to increase the recipe by 1/2 and use an 11" pan. Any suggestions??? (Yes, I can taste this cake already. Yum, yum, yum with yum sauce. Wait, that's cardamon cream!)
AntoniaJames December 8, 2010
I have never made this, but my gut tells me you're better off making two of them, and having some left over. You can give the people who fall madly in love with it each a slice to take home. Doubling/increasing in any way baked goods like cakes is insanely unpredictable. ;o)
hardlikearmour December 8, 2010
I think it'll work, just watch the cooking time. It is important with a sponge-type cake to use the correct pan size, and as you've determined an 11" round holds almost exactly 1.5X the volume of a 9" round.
Allison C. December 9, 2010
Hello, and thanks for your interest in my recipe. (Thanks also to others who have chimed in on my behalf with advice!)

The cake is really rich, so you don't need big slices. That said, it's true that getting 14 served from the 9-inch cake is a stretch.

Hate to say it, but I would definitely make two of these cakes, rather than making one large one. I don't think it would double well--mostly because of the cake's texture. It's soft, so increasing the diameter significantly will, I'm afraid, result in structural instability.

Having created the recipe, I can only tell you what I'd do. With some cakes, I'd risk increasing size of a single cake... but not this recipe.

Let me know how it goes. The cake is really yummy (if I'm allowed to say that about my own food), so I think it's worth making two of them.
Allison C. December 9, 2010
Sorry for the accidental double-posting of my earlier comment. I just wanted to add for clarity's sake (following hardlikearmour's comment) this is not a sponge cake recipe. It's flourless, soft and gooey, not "cakey" at all. I find these are exactly the types of cakes that do not double well.
mondoray8 December 11, 2010
One more question, please. Make it the day of the party or can I make it the day before? Thx!
Allison C. December 11, 2010
You can definitely make the cake the day before. I've eaten it after a couple of days, and it was still chocolately-gooey, rich, moist, yummy. Please be sure that the cake is absolutely cool before you cover it. I'm trying to remember what I did--I think I just left it in the pan and covered the pan with foil. Also, definitely do not top with confectioner's sugar until right before you plan to serve; ditto for the cardamom cream: do that the day of the party.
Jennifer A. February 3, 2010
gluttonforlife February 1, 2010
You had me at figs and chocolate--but cardamom cream! Almost (but not quite) gilding the lily...
Allison C. February 3, 2010
That "not quite" makes all the difference, doesn't it? Thanks for your wonderful comment.
EmilyNunn January 30, 2010
oh, baby!
Allison C. January 30, 2010
OK, this response really made my day. ;-)
lastnightsdinner January 30, 2010
This sounds fabulous. The cardamom cream is a great touch.
Allison C. January 30, 2010
Thank you so much.
TheWimpyVegetarian January 30, 2010
I LOVE figs and chocolate together and love the look of this recipe. I'm allergic to nuts, unfortunately, with very few exceptions. If I leave them out, do you have a sense for how it would affect the consistency? When the recipe calls for flour and the nuts are ground, I usually add flour to make up the difference. But since this is a torte, what do you think? -Oh and love the cardmom cream touch. I have a number of desserts I make that will benefit from that now!
Allison C. January 30, 2010
Thanks. I hate to say, though, that I'm not sure how this one would stand up to a no-nuts restriction. After all, the traditional cake I based it on is called a nut (walnut) torte. You say you do have some exceptions to the nut allergy? Maybe just switch the walnuts to a different type of nut? Since I bake a lot but have the luxury of a household with no allergies, I have to say I'm not adept at suggestion substitutions of this kind. I will think about it more, though. Meantime, if you come up with a solution, I'd love to hear about it. Glad that the cardamom cream will be put to good use. It's really, really good, if I'm allowed to say that about my own food. Thanks again for the comment.
AntoniaJames January 29, 2010
I'm going to make this for Mr. T. on Valentine's Day, but will probably use pecans instead of walnuts (because he's a Good Old Boy from the deep South who loves pecans almost as much as he loves me ;o) . . . ) and most likely will not grind them up too much. Wondering if the grappa would be nice in the whipped cream . . . . This is a real winner. Hands down.
Allison C. January 29, 2010
Thank you so much. I'm honored that you're going to make this for an event as special as Valentine's Day. And I can relate to "Good Old Boy" cooking, too: my dad is one of those! You'll have to let me know how it is with the pecans--I'll be it's good, buttery tasting (toast the pecans first?). As for the whipped cream . . . grappa might be good in there, but I've never tried it, mostly because I love how the cardamom shines quietly, deeply on its own. Thanks again for your accolades--means a lot. :-)
Allison C. January 29, 2010
Thanks for the comments so far, everyone. Much appreciated.
NakedBeet January 29, 2010
Saving it!
Annelle January 29, 2010
Oh yes, I'll definitely have to try this one! You've used some great flavors together that feel very appealing to my mouth!
arielleclementine January 29, 2010
how lovely!
WinnieAb January 29, 2010
This sounds so good! Love the cardamom cream touch!