Croatian hib cake
Hib is a ‘cake’ of dried figs, herbs, and brandy native to the Croatian Island of Vis. It's typically made at the end of summer, when the glut of island figs are laid out in the sun to dry. These are then ground together with some walnuts, herbs, and brandy, formed into small discs, and set out to dry again. Traditionally, hib would have been wrapped in cloth and taken by workers to eat in the fields, for the rest of us it works well as a more flavourful substitute for quince and is particularly yummy with hard sheep’s cheese.
If you want to dry your own figs, collect the ripest ones you can find (these are usually the ones that have already fallen to the ground, so no need to feel to guilty if you are scavenging someone else’s tree), and slice in half. Lay out on a wire rack between two layers of light cheesecloth and allow to dry in hot sun for 3 days.
It is also possible to dry figs in the oven on an extremely low temperature – 50-60°C for approximately 12 hours depending on the size of your figs. If your oven does not have such a low setting, or if you don’t want to leave it on continuously, best to wait for a stretch of sunny days. Otherwise, store-bought dried figs will work also perfectly well in this recipe!
(Makes one disc of Hib)
- 300g dried figs
- 40g shelled walnuts
- 1½ teaspoons of dried fennel seeds
- A few drops of brandy
- 1 dried bay leaf
- A few leaves of dried rosemary
Toast the walnuts in a dry pan over medium heat for 4 minutes, taking care to move these around so that they don’t burn. When toasted, remove to a chopping board and cut into small pieces.
Briefly toast the fennel seeds in the same pan until they release their aroma – around 1-2 minutes. Now crush lightly in a mortar and pestle to break the seeds up a little.
Next, roughly chop the dried figs, then grind these, along with the chopped walnuts, and lightly crushed fennel seeds, by hand in a large mortar and pestle, or in a food processor.
The ground fig mixture will begin to resemble a dough after some grinding. At this point, turn it out onto a clean bench top, add a few drops of brandy to bring the mixture together, and knead until it is possible to form a small cake or patty shape.
Next, leave the hib to dry in the sun for 10 days – a small domed cover made from fly screen or cheesecloth is useful for keeping off insects.
After ten days, the dried hib can be wrapped in baking paper, along with the bay leaf and dried rosemary. Store like this in a cupboard, or eat straight away. It’s especially delicious with Manchego cheese, or the Croatian equivalent, Trapist cheese from the Island of Pag.