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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If desired, sprinkled the cake with a light dusting of confectioner's sugar.
Cardamom Whipped Cream
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.