At the beginning of September I went on holiday to Carvoeiro in Portugal. One of my favourite things about Portugal, apart from the beautiful scenery, is the amazing fish dishes. Portugal is not particularly known for it’s traditional deserts or cakes so I wasn’t really expecting to get any baking inspiration while I was there. I suppose the only sweet treat would be the Portuguese custard tart or Pastel de Nata. However, there was one rainy day during the week so we decided to take a drive to a nearby town of Ferragudo where we found an amazing little bakery down a narrow side street. They made all their bread and cakes on site and had quite an amazing range of cakes. I chose to try a carob and fig cake and words cannot describe how amazing it was. It was very moist and sticky from the fig and dense – but in a good way. I am drooling just thinking about it now…If I had known how good it would taste I would have taken a picture before devouring it.
So as soon as I was able to get wifi I started to research fig and carob recipes so that I could try to recreate these amazing cakes. I had heard about carob but knew very little about it. Many people claim that it can be used in baking as a healthy alternative to chocolate because it’s free from caffeine and other stimulants and contains half the fat of cocoa. Personally I don’t think carob is really a substitute for chocolate because it doesn’t taste all that similar but nevertheless it is still delicious in cakes! It is good timing as well since figs season is in full swing and there is a bit of a fig frenzy in food magazines and supermarkets at the moment.
Other than fig and carob I have no idea what the Portuguese lady used to make her dreamy cakes but this was the recipe I decided to try first –
200g ground rolled oats
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
25g carob powder
75g coconut sugar
zest of 1 orange
½ cup milk
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. chia seeds + 6 Tbsp. water
1 cup chopped figs (about 5 figs, reserve 1 for garnish)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Soak the chia seeds in the water and leave to one side until they have formed a gel-like consistency.
- Combine the oats, coconut sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, carob powder and salt in a large bowl.
In a measuring jug combine the wet ingredients – milk, orange zest, applesauce and vanilla extract. Then stir in the chia seed gel.
- Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Then fold in the chopped figs.
- Spoon then mixture into paper muffin cases, filling each about 2/3 full. Add a slice of fig on top of each muffin to decorate before placing the muffins in the oven.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes (depending on size) until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack completely before enjoying.
Now for the taste test. They were very pleasant but unfortunately they did not compare to the Portuguese version. I wish I could go back in time and ask the lady for her recipe. Darn it!
I wasn’t entirely sure how to combine the figs into the mixture; how small to chop the figs, if I should leave the skin on or if I should only use the flesh. I opted for small chunks but I think I used too many as it made the batter quite wet resulting in a longer bake and dried out the tops of the muffins. Nobody likes a dry muffin top!
I’m sure this recipe is a more healthy version than the original as I can’t imagine chia seeds and applesauce were used in the traditional Portuguese bakery . They were also more grainy, which I should have expected given I was using ground oats, and I suspect a regular flour was used.
Alas, my quest continues! If I master the fig & carob cake I will be sure to post the recipe on here. But I look forward to experimenting with carob in other recipes.