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Three years ago (Is that all? It seems longer) Christopher and I went on a study tour to Split in Croatia with the Kent Archaeological Field School, and had a really good time exploring the stunning Roman remains there. On the last night of the holiday, as is traditional on such trips, the whole group went out for a farewell dinner at a little restaurant on one of the side streets within the walled city. As is also traditional, at the end of the meal the proprietor came around with a bottle of the local firewater for us to taste, no doubt in the hope of increasing her tip. It was Smokovaca, or fig brandy. We all tried some, and it was really rather good – a bit fiery, but with an underlying flavour of figs.  The next day, at Split airport, one of the group managed to find some on sale in the duty-free shop, and the whole party practically cleared the shelves as we all bought a bottle to take home.

Unfortunately, once we got home, Christopher and I discovered that it wasn’t actually very drinkable. What had tasted delicious on a warm evening on the shores of the Adriatic was a completely different drink on a miserable rainy November evening back home. So the bottle was consigned to the back of the drinks cupboard and nearly forgotten. Until, that is, Christopher discovered that it was really good for cooking with – in particular it was delicious added to baked apples, chocolate mousses and so on. Once he’d discovered that, the bottle got used up remarkably quickly as a “secret ingredient” in desserts. So when I went back to Croatia on holiday this summer, I decided to try to find some Smokovaca to bring home with me. Fortunately, Dubrovnik airport duty-free had a wide selection of local produce so I bought a bottle.

This is my recipe for baked figs in fig brandy:

Allow 1-2 figs per person. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the top (pointy bit) off a fig, then cut a deep cross in it almost, but not quite, all the way through. Put the fig in a little ramekin dish, and open it out a little bit, like a tulip. Drizzle some runny honey into the fig, then add a generous slug of smokovaca. Cover with foil, then bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot, using a teaspoon to scrape the very boozy insides out of the fig.

If you don’t happen to have a bottle of fig brandy to hand (and let’s face it, that’s unlikely unless you’ve recently travelled via a Croatian airport duty-free!) then it is very nearly as good with ordinary brandy.