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in the kitchen with: ming thompson’s layer cake

by Kristina Gill

You may not instantly recognize this beautiful pastry work, as you are all used to seeing Ming Thompson’s culinary skills baked into the form of a cupcake.  But this week, Ming, of Ming Makes Cupcakes, has taken a break from the cupcake to give us our first ever layer cake on the column!  And though she made it earlier in the summer, we saved it up until September in honor of the best figs of the year (but don’t worry, you don’t need fresh figs to do this!).  Personally, I happen to prefer making layer cakes to cupcakes because it’s a lot less work!  But never fear, for the die hard cupcake lovers Ming has also included instructions on how to make this beautiful cake (which is a pistachio olive oil cake with fig compote filling and cream cheese frosting) into one of her great filled cupcakes.  –Kristina

About Ming: Ming Thompson was born and raised in Southwest Virginia.  She grew up in the kitchen of her parents’ restaurant, Cuz’s Uptown Barbeque.  She graduated from Yale and recently earned her Masters in Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.  She currently works as an exhibition curator and designer, and runs a small stationery business.

CLICK HERE for the full recipe after the jump!

Pistachio Olive Oil Cake with Fig Compote Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

Fig Compote Filling
1.5 cups whole dried figs
1.5 cups water
the juice of one orange (about 1/3 cup)
a couple dashes of salt
2 T honey

Chop figs into small chunks, about the size of peanuts.  Cook in a saucepan with water, juice, and salt until figs are soft and water is evaporated, about 20 minutes.  Add honey and cook for a minute more.  Let cool.

Pistachio Olive Oil Cake

1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease 8×8 inch baking pan with olive oil.

Place pistachios in food processor.  Pulse until the texture of small gravel; remove about half.  Pulse the rest until the texture of coarse sand.

In a bowl, combine finely ground pistachios, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Stir until well combined.  Add oil and milk.  Beat with an electric mixer until blended.  Add eggs and lemon juice and beat until mixed.  Stir in the coarsely ground pistachios.

Pour batter into greased pan.  Bake for about 35 minutes, or until edges are lightly brown, and inserted knife comes out clean.  Let cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 stick butter, room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese
2 cups confectioners sugar

Mash ingredients together until roughly combined.  Beat with an electric mixer on high until creamy and well-combined.


After cake is cool, slice in half horizontally with a serrated knife.  Spoon filling evenly onto bottom layer, replace top layer, and frost with cream cheese frosting.  Top with additional figs and pistachios.

To make this cake into cupcakes:

This could also make a great filled cupcake.  Bake batter in cupcake liners.  After cool, cut a cone-shaped section from the top of the cake.  Slice off the top 1/4 inch, creating a cap for the hole.  Fill with fig compote and replace cap.  Frost with cream cheese icing.  Makes 12 cupcakes.

Why Ming chose this recipe:

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so when I do eat dessert, I prefer to have a little savory along with the sweet.  Here, I tried to incorporate some of my favorite flavors, olive oil, pistachio, and fig, into a versatile and easy cake.  The fig compote is simple to make, and dried figs can be found year-round; I think it would be great on a baguette with some goat cheese.

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  • This looks so good! I wonder if you could make it even more savory and Mediterranean by using Greek yogurt as a topping.

  • Caroline, I think that’s a great idea, especially for those who prefer something a little less sweet. That would be an excellent breakfast treat.

  • who did the pictures? i love, love, love the fade to grey in the second shot, so soft…doesn’t have an ounce of blown-out-blue ‘digital’ feel. is it paper??

    • kiki

      i’m pretty sure that’s our resident foodie/photog expert, kristina gill. kristina runs the recipe column and shoots most of the recipes you see here, unless noted otherwise. you can see her gorgeous food (and travel) photography here: http://www.kristinagill.com

      grace :)

  • Man oh man. This makes me hungry for cake….and it isn’t even lunchtime yet (in CA). Thanks for the recipe! I think I will try my hand at this recipe this weekend.

  • oh my gosh, i grew up dining at cuz’s. it’s an institution in sw va and my parents LOVED that place! we’ve since moved, but thank you for a trip down memory lane and a lovely new recipe :)

  • love the images, and can’t wait to try the cake! Congrats Ming! And I think I recognize those blue napkins :)

  • Hi Kiki,

    I should add that Ming did a great job with these images, I really like how she did styled them and the light. She shot over the span of two days. How she didn’t eat all the cake before the next morning, I do not know!!


  • thank you for this delicious recipe….. won’t be long until I’ll try it ! :) I love cake prepared with olive oil, it brings a special taste.

  • I am so intrigued at all I have just seen about you in terms of your education, background and what your baking! I attended architecture school in Blacksburg, Va. , love to cook and bake and have been working on graphic illustration now in Seattle. I’m going to try the cake and some of your cupcakes too. I’ve got Cuz’s on list of places to visit too!

  • I love Mings cupcakes! I make the Key Lime cupcakes for any party I have to go to-I just made some today actually!
    This cake is calling my name-and those pics are to die for!

  • When I saw these pictures, I started craving this cake. I had all the ingredience except figs and pistacios. Ran to the store, as quick as I could. As soon as I started cooking the figs, my boyfriend couldnt stop complimenting me on the smell. I just had my first bite and it is DELICIOUS!!! And Nick is in love with it more than me!
    Thanks for the recipe, I cant believe you shared this with us!

  • Prettiest cake I’ve ever seen! Do the pistachios need to be raw, or can they be roasted and salted?

  • Hi Lauren,
    I used roasted pistachios, and I think the roasted and salted kind would be great.

  • This sounds sooo yummy! I’m going to make it vegan by using soy milk, egg replacer, earth balance butter, tofutti cream-cheese, and agave nectar instead of honey!

  • OMG I love Ming’s website! The last three times I used her recipes my mom declared I should quit my job and start a pastry shop :-) Ming, please give us some more cupcakes soon!!!

  • This recipe looks divine! Ming – is there an ingredient that can be used instead of sugar?

  • I baked this cake on Sunday. I loved how easy it was to make. It sounds so fancy when you tell people what it is, but the ingredients and steps were so simple. I just wish it were a liiiiitttttle bit sweeter :)

  • Hi Melissa, I’m so glad the cake worked out well for you.

    Tdot, I’m hoping to add new cupcakes at some point, but I’ve been moving around every few weeks since the spring, and I haven’t been settled enough to get back into the swing!

    Hi Sara! I’m not quite sure about substituting – if I can think of a good solution, I will post it shortly.

    Hi Kelly, I’m so glad it turned out well. And, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I remember reducing the sugar to compensate for the sweetness of the icing and compote. You could definitely add in some more sugar next time if you want!

    And thanks to everyone for the nice comments.

  • Made this cake for Thanksgiving and people loved it! I wouldn’t change a thing about it, except maybe a smaller batch of frosting (1/3 less recipe). Had a lot of leftover while still a generous amount on cake.

  • made this recipe last night for a pre-NYE party – great success! i made it gluten-free by using almond flour/meal instead of flour. this means the cake doesn’t really rise, so to make it bigger, i recommend beating the egg whites separately at the end til they fluff up about 3 minutes and folding them in at the end after the egg yolks and lemon juice. great success this cake was :)

  • I made this tonight and it was absolutely wonderful. I made the compote, but only used about half of it for the filling as I wanted to really be able to taste the cake. Thank you for posting! :)

  • Hello! I made this cake for my friend’s birthday and it was quite the hit! It’s a very dense cake – more along the lines of a “bread” (à la banana or zucchini bread) or a pound cake than a light layer cake (though this is pretty apparent in the photos), but it was interesting and sophisticated.

    My only issue was that I found the frosting a bit too sweet for my taste. If I were to make this again, I might reduce the confectioner’s sugar and add a little lemon juice into the mix. Overall, however, it was really delicious and unique. Thank you so much for sharing, Ming!