Homemade Fig Newtons


Work at the restaurant is going well these days. "Well," if you count all the times I basically neglected to place orders for things I desperately needed and ran out mid-service and had to go all over the place chasing my tail, and ruined three batches of beer caramel, and had biscuit crises, and generally took some gravel in a big learning curve. I've gained some small bit of notoriety in the kitchen. Most of it (all of it) is centered around the fact that because we don't have a combi oven yet, the biscuits turn out differently ever. single. day despite my best efforts. Well, the biscuits...and the fact that chef has never met anyone else in twenty years of cooking who uses her long, kitchen tweezers to instantly become taller and more able to reach things. Matt, our long-suffering and talented bartender, has put considerable effort into making mocktails for me on the nights when we're allowed a shift-drink. Since hiring a sweet polar bear of a high-school boy to wash dishes on the weekend, I've gained a non-drinking buddy and we laughingly down our fake margaritas together and cheers to Matt who is the best sport ever about it. Chef has allowed me some small opinion/choice in pastry innovation too, allowing me to suggest improvements or substitutions, menu item ideas, and assignments to choose new recipes. Even though fig season is almost over, I'm hugely of the opinion that we need a fig and olive oil cake dessert on our menu, pronto. Something like last autumn's fresh fig and olive oil cake? *heart eyes*


Over the years I've come to discover that figs - particularly dried ones - are a surprisingly polarizing subject. Somewhere along the way, dried figs unfairly got sidelined with prunes as boring food that only old people eat and our culture hasn't really recovered yet. People react in such odd ways when you ask if they like fig bars. It's almost as if some adult sat down at a board meeting with a can of baby puffs and started snacking on them. It's low-key socially unacceptable to like Fig Newtons and that is why anytime I'm left to decide on the snacks for a movie night, I bring a package (among other things) - nobody else will touch them and there will be fig bars for days for me and my small crew of fellow fig-lovers.

I just don't understand how you could hate something as inoffensive as a dried fig.

Okay, okay, so at some point The Huffington Post did write an article about fig wasps and the fact that in almost every single fig we eat, there is some form of mummified wasp contained within its sphere. But people eat insects all the time - my chef claims grasshoppers are delicious - and are you really going to be any worse off consuming the dead remains of a Wasp of Yesteryear when you snack on dried figs than you are accidentally inhaling a spider while you sleep? No. The answer is "no" because spiders are of the devil and I'd rather eat some dusty wasp crumbs any day before I'd knowingly eat an arachnid.



Yet somehow figs have gained a sort of beige notoriety that sets them far out of the realm of cool foods. Never mind the fact that I've never met an old person who actually eats dried figs with any regularity, but whatever. Sometimes at really bougee restaurants (okay, my restaurant) a chef will put a fig dessert on the menu but it's always built around fresh figs and it always looks pretty and it's never that ugly-delicious packet of dark, moody flavors that are present in the little teardrop-shaped dried fruits. Some people object to the seeds. I like them. When I was little, Brewster's ice cream had this weird cotton-candy flavored ice cream with PopRocks inside them - somehow those little, snappy fig seeds remind me of that PopRock ice cream experience and I kinda love it.


About a year ago I decided I wanted to try to make Fig Newtons at home. While researching, I ran across Stella Parks's version of a recipe for Fig Newtons on the Serious Eats website and realized somebody had already done all the heavy-lifting and also loved Fig Newtons the same way I love Fig Newtons. In Stella's recipe, dried figs are pulsed in a food processor with orange juice and applesauce to make a delicious, seed-speckled paste which is then piped in a line onto a rolled-out, cake-like cookie-dough. The dough is letter-folded and baked in a log, then sliced post-bake and allowed to steam as they cool. The steaming process was the brilliant part of the whole deal - ever wondered why the cake/cookie part of a fig bar stays soft? It's all the job of the steaming! One rare case where putting your food away before cooling is actually preferable. Armed with Stella's handy-dandy steaming and piping methods, I set to making fig newtons and let me just tell you: she got the entire thing perfectly right. Like imagine the best fig bar you've ever eaten...and then pretend it hadn't been sitting on the grocery store shelf for approximately three months, and you'll have the way these Fig Newtons taste.



If loving (and eating, and making) Fig Newtons is wrong, do I even want to be right? No, no I don't. So here's to the old souls in this world. The ones who love record players and favorite songs on vinyl, guys who'd rather watch classic films than the newest blockbuster, girls who'd rather take a bike than an Uber, all the people everywhere who aren't ashamed to love fig bars. It's a good sort of person who will stand up for the things they love, regardless of whether those things are currently in vogue. Fig bars, I love you. Cool people, think what you want - I've got a date with bag of dried fruit and the opinion of a beloved pastry chef to back it up. Let's roll. (All credit for this recipe/methods go to Stella Parks and her incredible cookbook, Bravetart!)





Homemade Fig Newtons (from Stella Parks' Bravetart cookbook)
yields approximately 32 one-inch cookies

- cake-ish cookie -
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and sifted
1 1/4 (5 oz) sticks unsalted butter, soft but cool 
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 oz honey (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
3 large egg yolks, straight from the fridge

- fig preserves -
2 1/2 cups dried figs, stems trimmed
1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

  1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add softened butter, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, honey, and orange zest. Mix on low speed to moisten, then increase speed to medium and cream till light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add orange juice and beat well, then add egg yolks one at a time, mixing well after each. Reduce speed to low and sprinkle in flour, mixing till well-combined.
  2. Form dough into a smooth ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in fridge until cool and firm, but not hard (about 1 hour).
  3. Meanwhile, make fig paste by adding trimmed figs, apple sauce, and freshly squeezed orange juice to a food processor. Pulse until the figs are chopped finely, then scrape the sides of the bowl. Continue processing until figs have formed a smooth paste. Transfer fig paste to a piping bag fitted with a plain, round tip. If you don't have a piping bag you may put it into a zip-lock bag and and snip the corner with a pair of scissors.
  4. To assemble: heat oven to 350 degrees F. Knead the dough on a clean work surface until it is smooth, then dust with flour and roll into an 8" square. Sprinkle both sides with flour and roll into a 15" square. Slide off-set spatula under dough to loosen it, brush off flour, and cut into four 3 1/4-inch wide strips.
  5. Holding the bag at a 90 degree angle just above the surface of the dough (forcing the fig paste to flatten as you go) pipe a 1" wide strip down the center of each portion of dough. Fold a long flap of dough over each strip, brush away excess flour, and roll each bar over, seam-side down. Gently flatten each bar with your fingertips and transfer to a large cookie sheet (all four should fit on a half-pan size sheet). 
  6. Bake until the bars are puffed and sightly golden with no significant browning, about 18 minutes. Immediately cut into 1" bars and transfer to an airtight container with layers of paper towel between each layer of cookies and on top. Cover and "rest" at least six hours before eating so that the cookies don't taste dry. Store for up to a week at room temperature or up to a month in the fridge. 


2 comments

  1. OKAY I WAS JUST WATCHING YOU MAKE THIS ON INSTAGRAM! HOW DO YOU POST RECIPES SO FREAKING FAST? Also this is very timely as I just recently realized that I LOVE Fig Newtons, but only thee original fig flavor!


    The Adored Life

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    1. Haha, I had forgotten some ingredients so while I waited for groceries to be able to finish the bars, I took a minute to write the body of this post. ;)

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