This rustic-looking, beautiful yeast cake is one of our favorite family baking treats, deliciously infused with pockets of sweet dried figs and chopped walnuts.
It's also a ridiculously easy Holiday or weekend bake, yeast-leavened (with active dry yeast), that pairs best with coffee or tea, family, and friends. Let's bake!
I still love keeping some of these favorite baking traditions alive. It's when everyone loves to gather in a cozy kitchen, mixing their hands in the dough, and the oven has to do a bit of overtime.
Why you'll love this yeast cake recipe
- Yeast in cake gives its own unique taste that's so well worth that little extra time.
- It has a deliciously subtle sweetness with rich complex flavors.
- The chopped fig and walnuts add a nice surprise with each bite.
- It never goes out of favor because it tastes like the holidays and lazy weekends.
- And feels like sweet, cozy Christmas or lazy Sunday mornings.
- This Italian fig cake recipe uses beaten eggs and active dry yeast to bring air into the cake.
- Lemon zest and lemon juice add that lovely hint of acidity to balance the sweet flavors.
- Enjoy as-is or serve with a touch of butter and jam.
- It's just a simple yet delicious breakfast cake that belongs on your table.
Ingredients & notes
FLOUR: The original recipe only calls for unbleached all-purpose flour. But I love to replace half of the all-purpose flour with Spelt flour for a more natural sweeter flavor.
(COCONUT) SUGAR: This caramel-colored sweetener tastes like brown sugar, which you can use instead.
GRATED ZEST AND LEMON JUICE: Two large unpeeled and washed lemons (about 155 grams) will give you about two tablespoons of lemon zest and two tablespoons of lemon juice, perfect for this yeast cake recipe.
Note: You want both in this bake. The citrus zest adds a lovely aroma and brightens up the sweet flavors of this yeast cake, while the juice adds a bit of a tart, acidic element to balance that sweetness.
YEAST: One (¼-ounce or 7 grams) packet of active dry yeast is all you need in this recipe.
Note: If you want to use freshly compressed instead of active dry yeast, double the amount of yeast the recipe calls for, crumble it and let it soften in ¼ cup of lukewarm water with sugar. Allow it to bubble and get foamy before you proceed.
EGGS: You want four large farmer's eggs at room temperature because they're easier to whip, mix much better with the batter and allow for it to rise more easily.
How to bring eggs to room temperature? I rest mine in a bowl on the kitchen counter for about 30 minutes before starting my baking.
BUTTER: You also want your butter at room temperature. It should be soft and easy to knead to mix well with the rest of the ingredients.
How to bring butter to room temperature? Rest the amount of butter you need on the kitchen counter for about 30 minutes to one hour. Cutting the butter into smaller cubes will speed up the process. You could always microwave the butter for a few seconds or until it has softened enough.
DRIED FIGS AND WALNUTS: It's a dried fig cake, and although you could leave out the walnuts, I recommend adding them. It's delicious.
You can use either black mission or Smyrna figs. Just ensure they are sweet and still moist inside with their distinctive seeds and have not already dried out—which can happen if not properly stored in an airtight container or well-sealed bag.
To avoid significant clusters in the baked result, you also want to chop the walnuts and figs into tiny pieces.
Helpful tips to activate dry yeast
Active dry yeast is usually sold in small jars or packets. It is dormant granular yeast that needs to be rehydrated and proofed.
A few helpful notes:
- You need warm water between about 110°F-115°F. It will stay inactive if too cold, and the yeast will die if too hot. You can use an instant-read thermometer. I usually test the warmth of the water with my wrist. It should feel very warm but not hot.
- Make sure that the bowl you use to proof the yeast is large enough for the yeast to bloom and expand in size.
- In the winter, I cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel to keep it warm for the yeast to proof.
How to activate dry yeast
A few notes first:
- It's best to use a stand mixer with a dough hook, but you can make this cake batter by hand (I often do).
- Since the batter is fairly wet, you can't knead here the conventional way, like when making bread. Mix it enough to ensure all ingredients are equally worked in, especially butter.
- Resting time: this batter won't double in size like regular bread dough. But it will definitely increase in size (by a few inches) and add air and lightness to the dough.
Make it a holiday or breakfast cake
- This lovely fig and walnut yeast cake is a perfect fig coffee cake to add to your fall or winter baking.
- This yeast cake doesn't need any decoration, just a beautiful plate to present on the table with your favorite hot drinks and sweet spreads. Or make it part of a breakfast grazing board.
- It also makes one lovely breakfast treat on a cozy Holiday table—so worth making.
Variations to this Italian fig cake
- For a more bread-like variation. use half the amount of sugar and sprinkle the cake dough with dried thyme leaves before placing it in the oven.
- You could even use finely chopped fresh thyme leaves (two sprigs max) and add them to the batter mix.
- This yeast cake variation will have just a hint of sweetness and tastes lovely when served with a spicy jam, preserves, or apple butter.
- The thyme adds a wonderful aroma and pleasant flavor.
If stored in an airtight container, the yeast cake keeps well for five days at room temperature.
You can also store any leftovers in the freezer for two or three months. If stored in the freezer, it is best to slice it into individual pieces, wrap them in parchment paper and then store them in a container.
Defrost by letting it sit at room temperature for a bit. I like to pop the slices in a toaster (or microwave for a few seconds).
Yes, of course. Traditionally, using yeast in cakes was one of the few reliable ways to get cake batter to rise and be significantly more airy and fluffy.
Growing up, we never used the more conventional baking powder as a leavening agent for our cake recipes.
The simple answer is fermentation, which in turn creates air bubbles in your dough or batter giving it that lighter texture and a slightly crumbly cake structure once baked.
But I also love how fermented yeast adds a noticeable, albeit delicate own unique taste that improves the overall flavor.
A yeast cake also holds its moisture better and can be stored longer on the counter without drying out too quickly.
Yeast cakes require a little more patience because the batter needs time to rise (about 40 minutes to one hour).
It's best to use flour with higher protein content, like all-purpose, bread, or Spelt flour. These proteins are necessary to develop gluten, which yeast needs to form the cake's structure.
And although the texture will still be light and fairly crumbly, this fig and walnut cake is a bit denser than cakes baked with other leavening agents, making it more of a bread-like treat perfect for breakfast or brunch.
This yeast cake will also have more of a rustic-looking browned crust with a soft interior. It's not your typical big fluffy cake but a traditionally European-looking old-fashioned yeast cake with beautiful flavors.
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Fig-Walnut Yeast CakeMariska Ramondino
- one 9-inch round springform pan.
- 4 cups flour (I use a combo of all-purpose flour and Spelt flour, but feel free to only use all-purpose flour) 500 grams
- 2 cups coconut sugar (you can use pure cane sugar, if preferred) 305 grams
- Grated zest of 1 large lemon or equivalent to 2 tablespoons
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 packet active dry yeast, rehydrated according to package instructions ¼ ounce or 7 grams
- 4 large eggs at room temperature beaten
- 9 ounces butter at room temperature 255 grams, plus more to butter the spring form
- 15 dried chopped figs
- ½ cup chopped walnuts 50 grams (you can go up to 80 grams)
- You can use a stand mixer with a dough hook or opt to make this cake dough by hand (I often do).
- In a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer), combine the flour and the sugar with a whisk to break up any lumps.
- Add the grated lemon zest, lemon juice, rehydrated yeast, beaten eggs, and butter.
- Use your hands to combine the ingredients, ensuring no chunks of butter are left. If using a stand mixer, let the dough hook mix and knead your dough on a low to medium setting.
- Don't over-knead it, just enough to work in the butter.
- Work in the pieces of fig and walnuts. If done by hand, I simply stir them in using a wooden spoon.
- Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let the dough rest for about 1 hour.
- Close to the end of that one hour, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/ 180 degrees C.
- Butter the springform pan, then shake in a bit of flour (coating all sides) and tap out the excess.
- Use a spatula to spread the dough evenly in the prepared pan.
- Bake in the center of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean with no wet crumbs clinging to it.
- Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the pan.
- Serve as is or top with sifted powder sugar for a more festive look or extra fresh sliced figs.
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Nutrition (% Daily value)
Disclaimer: This nutritional data is calculated using third party tools and is only intended as a reference.