Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spiced Fig Bars (homemade Fig Newtons)

Today I'm being stupid.

No really. I'm in a funk and I need to get myself out.

It's ridiculous but I'll get over it. I just need to let you know that this is happening.

It's one of those funks where I don't like anything I bake, I think I'm growing love handles, I miss the Summer before it's over, I forget to put sugar in my cupcake batter, I have to throw out a whole batch of cupcake batter, and writing a cookbook is so much work that it seems more like an infinite dream that will never become know what I'm talking about. Right? I hope so. Or else I'm the only one.

Just call me the Funk Master! No wait...don't.

When these things happen I just need to take a deep breath and remember that life is about way more than perfect brownies or love handles. Although perfect brownies really make life better.

Then I need to make something totally comforting and rustic. Something that doesn't need to be perfect but just tastes great!

These are very similar to fig newtons. You know fig newtons. Everybody knows fig newtons. My mom loved them. She always had them in the house. The house I grew up in and spent 18 years in. That house is now inhabited by another happy family with young children. I wonder if they keep fig newtons in that house too.....

     I wonder if they found the initials my sister and I carved into the doors in the basement...

These are a definite comfort food. Soft, tender, sweet and buttery. If celery sticks had that appeal then this love handle situation would not be a situation.

The dough is almost like a shortbread with the exception of an egg yolk. You might find it a bit difficult to roll out as it has a tendency to crack in places but just keep trucking, pinching or patching them together, and it will roll out smoothly. When you fold up the dough around the filling and it cracks at the edges....don't fret. It's no biggie. Have a sip of tea and pinch it together. Even if it stays cracked a bit, the filling won't leak out because it is very thick. I've got your back.

Speaking of filling...this stuff is good enough to eat with a spoon. It's figs, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon. Totally delicious and perfect to spread on toast!

Spiced Fig Bars

For the dough:
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp milk
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder

For the filling:
7 oz dried figs (I use Turkish figs), quartered
1 ¾ cups water
½ tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt

In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar and salt using an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, making sure to scrape down sides of bowl. Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat until well incorporated. Add milk and beat until just blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder and stir into wet ingredients in two batches until a soft dough forms. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

To make the fig filling, place the chopped figs, water, cinnamon and nutmeg in a 3 or 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepot over medium heat. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. The figs should be soft and swollen but there should still be some liquid left in the pot. Add the brown sugar and lemon juice, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes until thickened and very little liquid remains. Remove from heat, set the mixture aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, and then puree in a food processor until smooth. Let filling cool completely at room temperature and then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled and set.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 15x12-inch rectangle. Use a ruler to slice the dough into three strips so that you end up with 3 long thin rectangles that are 5 inches wide and 12 inches long.

Spread one-third of the fig filling along the center of one of the strips of dough. Gently fold one long side of dough over the fig mixture and then fold the second side to overlap the first. You will now have a long tube of dough enclosing the fig filling. Press down gently at the seams without squishing out the filling. Repeat this with the remaining two strips of dough. Pinch the edges together if they crack. No worries.

Slice the logs into 1½-inch pieces and carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet with the seam side facing down. This is done easiest by sliding the cookies onto an off-set spatula and then gently sliding them off onto the parchment.

Bake until slightly puffed and lightly golden, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

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