Recipe Review

I Tried Ina Garten’s Favorite Recipe of All Time

published Aug 25, 2020
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Slice of Ina Garten's fig and ricotta cake on plate with whole cake in background.
Credit: Christine Gallary

It’s a sure sign of late summer when baskets of bright green or mauve-hued figs start showing up at farmers markets. Fig trees, heavily laden with the delicate tear drop-shaped fruit, are begging to be picked, and typically I simply eat the fruit out of hand. But this year, I came across Ina Garten’s fresh fig and ricotta cake recipe, which she describes as “literally the easiest cake I’ve ever made.” She also once told Katie Couric it was her favorite recipe from all 11 of her books. The fate of my next basket of figs was all but decided for me.

How to Make Ina’s Fig & Ricotta Cake

Glancing at the recipe right off the bat, I wouldn’t agree that it’s the easiest cake you’ll ever make. You still have to sift the dry ingredients, use a stand mixer, and dirty a few bowls, so I would qualify this as more of a standard cake recipe.

The first step is to flour and grease a 9-inch springform pan, which I happened to have. But honestly, I think a regular 9-inch round cake pan will do just fine as long as it’s about two inches high. The springform means that you can serve the cake a little easier, but don’t let the lack of that specific pan stop you from making this cake.

The recipe calls for the standard ingredients you expect from most cake batters: unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, leaveners, a little lemon zest, and sugar. But there are also a few what I call “only Ina” ingredients. She uses extra-large eggs (three in this case), which I’ve always found to be a bit annoying, since most recipes are tested and developed using standard large eggs. Next comes a variety of dairy: ricotta cheese, sour cream (just a mere two tablespoons), and crème fraîche (another “only Ina” ingredient) for serving. I usually don’t have any of these in my fridge, so the cost of this cake was getting quite high at this point. But I went out and got everything anyway to be true to Ina (and for an excuse to buy crème fraîche).

After the ricotta cake batter is made and spread out in the pan, a basket of cut-up figs is arranged on top. The recipe didn’t specify what type of figs, so my daughter chose the sweeter green figs over the darker ones. I quartered the larger ones and halved the smaller ones, then nestled them into the cake batter because it wasn’t clear whether they went on top or had to be pushed in. After a sprinkling of coarse sugar, the cake went into the oven.

Credit: Christine Gallary

My Honest Review of Ina’s Fig Cake

So how did this lemony ricotta cake studded with figs turn out? Well, it didn’t quite look like the picture. Instead of pretty caramelized figs all over the top, my figs had sunk into the batter and mostly disappeared. While that was a bit disappointing, it really was more about how the cake tasted.

The cake was very moist from the ricotta and looked almost like an almond cake. It had crunchy edges, which I loved, and wasn’t too sweet. There were figs in practically every bite, and they had all but collapsed into jammy sweetness. Since they weren’t on top, they didn’t caramelize as promised, which I think would have been better. The dollop of rich crème fraîche I put on my slice of warm cake was a nice foil against the sweetness of the figs, but honestly wasn’t worth the extra cost. Yogurt, sour cream, or Ina’s other suggestion of vanilla ice cream would have been just-fine substitutions in my book.

To be honest, the cake was fine but didn’t wow me. I couldn’t taste the lemon zest (it only had a mere 1/2 teaspoon) and felt like it needed more zest or even a bit of juice to cut through the sweetness of the figs. I also wondered if the other variety of less-sweet figs at the market would have been a better choice. While this cake definitely celebrated figs, the variety of dairy required would make me think twice before committing to it again.

Credit: Christine Gallary

If You’re Making Ina’s Fig Cake, a Few Tips

  1. Pick the right figs: There’s no guidance in the recipe on the variety of fig to use, so I would recommend ones that aren’t super-sweet (like Kadota or Brown Turkey), and buy ones that are firm so they hold up during baking.
  2. Up the lemon: Add the zest of a whole lemon and maybe even a squeeze of juice to brighten things up.
  3. Don’t press the figs in: Just place the figs right on top of the batter and don’t press them in. Hopefully the cake will rise around but not cover them up completely so they get a chance to caramelize.
  4. Skip the crème fraîche: If you already have some at home or just love the stuff, by all means buy it. I would just serve the cake with a cheaper alternative, or go with nothing at all to be a purist and celebrate fig season in all its glory.

Have you ever made Ina’s fig and ricotta cake? Tell us what you thought!