Fig, a summer fruit whose magnificent aromas are prepared in diverse forms in the rest of the year, is the sweetest representative of the Dalmatian cuisine. It is finest in its original form, picked from the tree, bathed in the sun and fresh sea air, representing enjoyment that we would prepare most willingly and relish it over the year. With the beautiful Dalmatian tradition, that is not quite impossible. Jams, marmalades, liqueurs, and the sweetest of all, the fig cake (smokvenjak), are part of tradition which our “sea people” have kept loyally for many years.
On the Cres Island, the home of the sweet fig cake, this cake is prepared in an unbelievably simple way, and then it is relished through all seasons. Just a few ingredients such as almonds, homemade rakija, lozovača or travarica, turn the fig fruit into irresistible dessert. Instead of almonds, the combination can be complemented with other nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios, but the most important will still be the fresh, just picked fig and good quality rakija. All the rest is only nuances which make the tastes of the fig cake special in their own way.
In addition to the Dalmatian fig cake and that from the Cres, there is an Istrian fig cake in which pine nuts are added, and instead of homemade Dalmatian lozovača, certainly, it is added Istrian rakija.
The fig cake was originally considered labourer’s food. Due to its sweetness, it was perfect after arduous work in olive yards and vineyards to give energy to people for the rest of the day. Legends say that the fig cake used to be relished readily by kings and emperors, and dry figs were among those favourite delicacies of Cleopatra herself.
Nowadays, the fig cake is served with sweet and salty dishes, and it is the finest in combination with good homemade goat’s milk cheese, or with some warm bread, with homemade olive oil and some olive. It is served with now traditionally famous appetisers. It goes perfectly with sweet liqueurs such as Teranino, Prošek, or with simple but always welcome rakija.
The fig cake is most often prepared in a round form or is rolled like salami, and then it is served cut in circles or triangles. Just one bite of this ingenious energy-full plate will be enough to feel all the allure of summer holidays at the Adriatic, the smell of the sea in your nose and rich taste on the palate. Chefs of our best restaurants are also aware of that, so they have enlisted the fig cake in their offer without reluctance. You can find it at the Stancija Kovačići, at Istrian Matulji, and in Umag, at the Buščina and Sole Taverns.
“The fig cake is not frequently included in our menu but when it is, we serve it with a cold starter, for example with liver spread. We slice it thinly because it is quite strong, and we prepare it by ourselves. We use homemade figs and rakija,” we were told at the Stancija Kovačići.
At the Buščina Tavern, the fig cake is sometimes also added to boards, especially to those lavish cheese boards. “We do not prepare homemade fig cake but we sometimes supply it and serve it with cold starters or different cheese,” we were disclosed at the Buščina Tavern.
In Umag, which is known as an excellent place to enjoy homemade fish specialties, we peeked in the Sole Tavern and found out their secret of preparation of a perfect fig cake.
“Sometimes, we have a fig cake in our offer, and we prepare it ourselves. There are not any special secrets save that the ingredients should be of high quality. We make it of rakija, figs, and we add fennel. We add Istrian grappa – rakija made of Malvazija and Muškat, which has rather strong aroma and is perfect with figs. Once we made it with fennel rakija and it was perfect. It is quite a simple dessert and should not be complicated too much,” was the advice given at the end by the Chef of the Sole Tavern, Marino Soša.
The Knez Restaurant in Omiš does not have the fig cake in its offer however they disclosed to us that a cake similar to the fig cake can be tasted there. It is prepared of dry figs, nuts and orange and irresistibly reminds of one of the most renowned Dalmatian delicacies.
If you still come across your own example of the sheer homemade fig cake, do not doubt at any moment, pair it with your favourite cheese, add some grape berries and enjoy the gorgeous tastes that pack the summer in only one bite.