Think Spring – Strawberry Pavlovas with Vanilla Bean Cream

Okay, I know in Israel we are a little ahead in our growing season than the US, so this recipe might not be as useful for my Israeli compatriots as the strawberry season is almost over, but it is just starting in the US.  On Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) we finally went strawberry picking. Well I went strawberry picking with the Little Rocker and Squeaker and with my friend E and her daughter S. I heard of this strawberry field that was only about 20 minutes away and they didn’t charge for picking, just for the actual strawberries themselves.

I was a little worried about going anywhere on Yom Haatzmaut because the whole country is out and in all the parks and recreation areas. I was warned by native Israelis to not try to go any more than 10 minutes from my house because otherwise the amount of traffic would just make the whole trip not worth it.  I was also warned that if I wanted to barbecue in a park (the official Independence Day pastime), then I should stake out a spot and picnic table the night before and have someone stay in the park the whole night. Soooo, that was out.

The barbeque process, everyone with their drink of choice.
The barbecue process, everyone with their drink of choice.
The Little Rocker hamming it up for the camera.
The Little Rocker hamming it up for the camera. Look at that wind!

We had already planned to get together with E and A on Yom Haatzmaut and I was just looking for something to do during the day before the barbecue.  So I decided on strawberry picking before the season ended.

The meat.
The meat.

On the morning of the big day, all we saw were grey clouds and I was a little apprehensive. It was also really windy. I had heard that the rain was supposed to be spotty so we set out anyway in the hopes that it would be nice and sunny when we got there.  As we drove to the field (and with a few wrong turns ;) ) the sun came out and the weather turned lovely.  Bright and sunny, but a cool breeze too. We got to the field and picked the freshest strawberries I have had in this country. The Little Rocker did all the bending down for me which was awesome as I had Squeaker in a backpack on me. And we ended up with some really bright and sweet strawberries.

Kite Flying
Taking advantage of the windy day and the open soccer field.

We got home and continued with our plans and had an amazing barbecue with great fresh fruit for dessert. But afterwards we still had all those strawberries.  I made a strawberry pie with some of them, and it was great.  But then I made these strawberry pavlovas and they were the bomb-dizzle.

Adding strawberry sauce.
Adding strawberry sauce.

I had a ton of egg whites saved up in the freezer from some time when I made lemon curd or something. I didn’t want to make more meringues, because they always took so long and then I always ate them because Rocker Dude doesn’t like them.  So here is something to do with all those extra egg whites.

The finished product.
The finished product.

I ended up making individual pavlovas as opposed to one big one, because if I have a choice, I prefer to make individual desserts as opposed to family style, and this is one chance to do that without shaping individual pie crusts.

I wanted to really have the strawberry flavor pop, so I also made a strawberry sauce to be drizzled over the cream. The Little Rocker was really excited to try these and though she usually does not like the desserts I make (no taste that one, I don’t know what to do with her) she loved this one.

Strawberry Pavlovas
Strawberry Pavlovas

We had a bunch of people for dinner and these came out wonderfully, though in the future I might make the pavlovas themselves a little smaller as some felt that there was too much sweet on the plate.

This is a wonderful dessert for warm spring or summer days as it is sweet and refreshing.

Recipe (serves 12):
Pavlovas (from the Pastry Studio):

6 egg whites at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp.  cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and line two baking sheets with baking paper.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites on medium-low speed.  When they are foamy, add the cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating until egg whites are opaque.  Slowly dd the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until continue whipping until the egg whites are stiff and shiny.

Drop the meringue by spoonfuls onto the baking sheets, using about 1/3 cup per pavlova. Smooth the tops with the back of a spoon, leaving an indentation for the filling. Bake for about 1 1/2 -2 hours or until the meringues are dry and can be released easily from the baking paper.  Remember to rotate the baking sheets halfway and if you have them on two racks then to switch the pans as well. When they are done, turn off the oven and let the meringues dry out for another 30 minutes in the oven.  After 30 minutes, place the meringues on a wire rack to cool.

Vanilla Bean Cream:

250 ml whipping cream
2 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

In a clean mixing bowl, begin whipping the cream. As the cream thickens, add the sugar and the vanilla. Continue beating until stiff. Chill in the refrigerator until needed.

Strawberry Sauce:

15 strawberries, washed and hulled
2 tbsp.-1/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the strawberries are

In a food processor or blender, combine the strawberries with the sugar until you have a uniform sauce.

Washed, hulled and sliced strawberries for garnish.

Assembly:

On each plate, place a meringue.  Add a generous spoonful of cream on top, followed by some sliced strawberries.  Then drizzle some strawberry sauce over the whole thing. Serve immediately.

Empty out your fridge breakfast muffins

A few weeks before Passover, I was home with Squeaker, trying to make the most of the last of my maternity leave. Apparently, 3 months is shorter when you are living it than when you think about it beforehand. One of my projects during my maternity leave was to clean the apartment for Passover – i.e. removing any and all crumbs and food droppings from anywhere in the house and cleaning all the appliances and other surfaces more extensively than is done all year.  Usually, Rocker Dude does most of the cleaning as he has vacation for a week and a half before Passover starts (don’t hate, teachers work super hard!), so this year I decided to give him the year off. Part of this process is finishing up all the not-kosher-for-Passover food that is in the house.

Muffins for breakfast.
Muffins for breakfast.

So one day, while searching through the freezer and cabinets, I found 1 cup of frozen pumpkin puree and a few dates left over from Purim, and a ton of self-raising flour that needed to be finished up.  I used the wonderful tool that is Google and I searched those ingredients and got to this recipe. At the time I even had a couple of bananas so I could have made the muffins as they were supposed to be made, but those bananas soon disappeared. I was super excited to make this recipe for breakfasts because due to Squeaker’s sensitivities, I can’t have dairy or coffee (!) as long as I nurse her, which has made breakfast a particular challenge for me.

In an amazing bit of foresight (totally by chance) I had asked my parents to bring a whole Cosco-sized box full of Quaker Instant Oatmeal.  You know, the oatmeal that you just have to pour hot water on it and it comes in maple and brown sugar, apple and cinnamon, cinnamon and spice and original flavors? That stuff seriously made breakfasting much easier, especially as Squeaker usually fell asleep in the sling while I took the Little Rocker to nursery and I didn’t want to move her. So pour packet into a bowl, pour boiling water on top, cover and wait five minutes. Done. Healthy (mostly) breakfast. And, as it was the winter, warm and yummy. The best was one stormy morning when Squeaker was about a month old.  It was the first day of a week long rainstorm. (Something that rarely happens in Israel, and contributed to a major rise in the level of water reserves in the country, ending a seven-year-long drought.) I had taken the Little Rocker to nursery and we got soaked on our way back home. Squeaker didn’t even notice and slept through it all. I walked home, made me some oatmeal, and oh did I enjoy it! So worth it.

Have a bite!
Have a bite!

Either way, back to muffins for breakfast. When I was ready to make these muffins, there were no more bananas, so we had to modify the recipe a bit. I also substituted ingredients that I had for the rice bran oil and oat milk. The batter is really quick to mix up (Imma this is for you) – just pour everything into a bowl and mix well.  It also does not have a lot of sugar in it – a lot of the sweetness comes from the bananas (if you are using them) and the dates.

Unfortunately, these muffins are not so low calorie if you eat more than two in a day :(. Ooops.  Well, in my defense, we had to finish all the flour before Passover started…

Pumpkin Date Muffins
Pumpkin Date Muffins

Enjoy!

Recipe (based on the recipe on food.baby.life):

2 cups self-raising flour, regular or whole wheat
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk or soymilk
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (optional)1/2 cup dried date

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper liners and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon and sugar in a large bowl.  Add the milk, oil and egg. Mix well until just combined.  Fold through the pumpkin and dates being careful not to overmix.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tray and bake for 18-20 minutes or until cooked. Let the muffins rest for 5 minutes before cooling them on a wire rack.

Ganache Truffles

Something new for me – tempering chocolate! Tempering chocolate has been always a bit intimidating, especially as I don’t have tons of counter space to start folding chocolate over and over on a marble slab. The reason that one would temper chocolate is that it allows the finished chocolate to set at room temperature and does not need to be refrigerated in order to stay firm.  It also gives the chocolate a nice snap when you bite into it.

Chocolate Ganache Truffles
Chocolate Ganache Truffles

This week I was asked to make something chocolatey for dessert at a friend’s house.  I saw a recipe for banana truffles online and I decided to try it.  It was meant to be a ganache mixed with mashed bananas which are then dipped in tempered chocolate to form a hard shell. In order to change it up, I caramelized the banana before I mashed it in with the chocolate ganache. I have to say that the banana flavor was not at all discernible. I was hoping that it would taste all bananas-foster-y but that didn’t happen.  Oh well.

Bananas sliced for caramelizing.
Bananas sliced for caramelizing.

I decided to use a truffle mold that I had bought years ago. It has been sitting in a drawer since the day I bought it, except when the Little Rocker took it out to play with.

Then I searched the annals of Google for the best way to temper chocolate. I wanted to use the seed method which basically means that you melt half of the chocolate and then slowly add some of the non-melted chocolate in and mix really well. The non-melted chocolate helps the melted chocolate form a crystalline structure and reach proper temper.

Making the truffles was a pretty hands-on, and I learned a few things about the process. Here is what I should have done, instead of what I did.  I should have used a paintbrush to brush the chocolate onto the sides and bottom of the truffle molds in order to leave a perfect thin layer of chocolate all around the edges.  Then, when that chocolate hardened, put in the ganache filling and then pour more tempered chocolate over the ganache to fill in the mold. But I figured that people would not want chocolates flavored by the Little Rocker’s paints, so I had to improvise. Instead, I just dripped in chocolate from a spoon and used the ganache to kind of push the chocolate all around the edges. A lot of the truffles ended up with gaps along the sides and were not so beautiful looking.

Truffles!
Truffles!

I used really good 60 percent cacao dark chocolate to make the truffles because they always say to use quality chocolate when you want the flavor to stand out.  So since I had been asked to make food for chocolate lovers, I wanted a strong tasting dark chocolate flavor. The one complaint that Rocker Dude had was that the chocolate flavor was too strong and rich, the irony.

Speaking of Rocker Dude, he just celebrated the fifth anniversary of his radio show last week.  Yay Rocker Dude! Check out the show at http://www.rock4rookies.com.

The one thing about this recipe is that it is super time consuming.  It was a good thing that I didn’t have too much else to make for Shabbat because I spent a lot of time on these chocolates. Rocker Dude was lucky that we had no guests for Friday night because I got to make him steak for dinner!  It was the first time that I have ever made steak and it turned out really good. I personally don’t like steak that much (I usually order chicken at restaurants), but Rocker Dude loves steak.  So I consulted the all-knowing Google once more to figure out how one actually cooks a steak. I went simple and just pan seared the steaks until they were almost medium, as I would have to keep them warm for a couple of hours before we would be able to eat them.  It worked out really well, and the steaks were moist and juicy and went great with the mashed potatoes.

But back to the chocolate. Here is the recipe, based on the one from Love & Olive Oil.

Recipe:

Ganache:
6 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 ripe bananas, sliced
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Coating:
8 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp. butter or margarine

Warm the cream until it is steaming, and then pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts completely and the ganache is smooth. Melt the margarine in a frying pan and add the brown sugar.  When the margarine is completely melted, lay the banana slices in the frying pan in a single layer.  After two minutes, flip the banana slices over and caramelize the other side. When they are done, mash the bananas and place them, the ganache and the vanilla into a food processor and pulse until completely blended. Put the ganache in a container and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

You need to do the chocolate coating in two stages. To temper the chocolate, melt two ounces of the dark chocolate and half of the margarine.  Then slowly add two ounces of the non-melted chocolate while mixing vigorously. Keep mixing until the chocolate cools slightly. Then take a paintbrush (one that has not been used for paint), and paint the cups of the truffle mold so that all the sides and bottom are completely covered with chocolate. When that has hardened, take some firm ganache and put it into the molds.  Temper the rest of the chocolate the same way and fill the molds completely. Quickly take an offset spatula and scrape the tops of the molds so that they are smooth. After a few minutes, the chocolate will have hardened and you can remove them.  If the chocolate has been properly tempered, then you won’t need to refrigerate the truffles.  If they start getting soft, then the chocolate was not properly tempered and needs to be kept cold in order to stay firm. Enjoy!

Lemon Meringue Hamantashen

It is Purim!  My favorite time of the year.  Now, it may have something to do with the fact that my birthday is always around Purim, but I think it is similar to how people think about Christmas.  Everyone is happier around Christmas time, and it makes for a general cheer all around. In fact that is what many American ex-pats miss when they move out.  Here in Israel, now is the general happy time.  Everything is silly and people really try to step outside their comfort zone in order to get into the holiday spirit.  Everyday for the past couple of weeks, the Little Rocker has come home from kindergarten dressed as something else.  One day it was a ladybug, another day, masks they drew themselves, on other days her face was painted with various animals.  It’s really a fun time. I love seeing people dressed up, though I am not such a fan of dressing up myself.

Lemon Meringue Hamantashen.
Lemon Meringue Hamantashen.

So I am finally getting around to making something that I have been thinking about for over a year.  Lemon-meringue hamantashen.  Hamantashen are my favorite holiday-related food – even more than honey cake for Rosh Hashana and matza brei for Pesach. In Israel hamantashen season starts right after Chanuka, so already in December, the stores started stocking freshly made hamantashen.  The one issue I have with it is that in Israel, they are not so creative with the fillings.  They always have the traditional poppy seed filled ones (eew), date filled ones (quite good), walnut filled ones (eh), and chocolate filled ones (eh). None of the usual strawberry, apricot or other fruit filled ones.  This actually led to a long discussion at work between the Americans and the Israelis.  All the Americans were deploring the lack of fruity hamantashen that we are used to, while all the Israelis were shocked that anyone would put jelly in a hamantashen. Just another culture clash that may never be resolved.

The Little Rocker and her friend making hamantashen together.
The Little Rocker and her friend making hamantashen together.
The fillings they chose.  The Little Rocker chose raspberry jam and chocolate and her friend chose plain chocolate.
The fillings they chose. The Little Rocker chose raspberry jam and chocolate and her friend chose plain chocolate.

So every year I make the usual hamantashen, strawberry, blueberry, apple, etc. and last year, I though about trying something new – lemon-meringue. Last year I started planning it, and it was going to be really awesome as Purim fell out on my birthday, but then Rocker Dude had to leave me on my birthday and go do his army reserve service.  Apparently the army doesn’t accept “Sorry, it’s my wife’s birthday” as an excuse. So as I was alone with the Little Rocker and not in the mood to put effort into anything (my usual hubby-in-the-army situation), so I shelved the idea.

This year, I am on maternity leave, so I have tons of time (sort-of) and free hands (mostly) so this is the year that we make lemon-meringue hamantashen.

I usually use my sugar cookie recipe for the base of the dough, but I feel like the end product always comes out a bit too sweet. In Israel, the cookie recipe is less sweet and I think complements the filling more. So I looked around on Israeli sites to see what people were using.  To give you an idea of what the difference is between the recipes, my sugar cookie recipe calls for two cups of sugar to three cups of flour.  The one I ended up using from Aviva Pibko (a contestant on Master Chef here) has one and a quarter cups of sugar to four cups of flour.

Ready circles of dough
Ready circles of dough
Filled circles.
Filled circles.
Ready to bake hamantashen.
Ready to bake hamantashen.

I made a lemon curd as the filling and with the leftover egg whites, made  a meringue that I toasted in the oven. The end result is a tart cookie with a pillow of sweetness on top.

Hamantashen just after toasting.
Hamantashen just after toasting.

Of course Rocker Dude tasted the cookie and said, “What’s that in the dough?” When I said “Lemon,” I got a sour face in response. Now he will deny that he said that, but we all know that he wanted regular sugar dough instead ;).

Don't you want to try a bite?
Don’t you want to try a bite?

If you are looking for some more interesting hamantashen ideas, check out this link.

Here is the recipe for the hamantashen.

P.S. I also used regular raspberry preserves as a filling and they came out great. There was a nice contrast between the lemon in the dough and the sweet jam.

Recipe:
Dough (based on this recipe from Aviva Pibko):

250 g butter or margarine
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or paste
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
grated zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp. salt

Cream the butter or margarine with the sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture for a full minute between each egg. Add the vanilla and the zest. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add them to the wet ingredients, mixing only until the dough is combined.  Put the dough into a plastic bag and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.

Filling (from The Art and Soul of Baking):

3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup minus 1 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tbsp. cold butter or margarine

Meringue:

3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar

Prepare a double boiler, or a pot with a heat-safe bowl on top.  In the bowl (off the heat), mix the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice until well blended. Place the bowl over the boiling pot and heat the lemon mixture.  Make sure to keep whisking the mixture, and scrape the sides of the bowl to keep the mixture from curdling.  After about 7 minutes, the curd should thicken (it will hit 180 degrees).  Pour the curd through a strainer.  Then add the butter or margarine, making sure that it is completely melted.  Press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface of the curd and refrigerate the curd until it is needed.

To assemble the hamantashen: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the chilled the dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness.  Use a round cookie cutter (four-inch diameter) to make circles.  Place a scant teaspoonful of the curd in the center of each circle and pinch the ends together to form a triangle.

Place the finished cookies on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.  If you notice that the triangles are opening while baking, refrigerate the formed hamantashen for 20 minutes before putting them in the oven.

While the cookies are cooling, beat the egg whites on high speed while slowly adding in the sugar.  Whip the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Place a heaping teaspoonful on the center of each hamantashen and either toast the meringue with a butane torch or set the oven to broil and toast the cookies for a minute in the oven. Watch them carefully because they burn quickly.

The cookies will keep (without the meringue) for 4 days in a sealed container.  Once you add the meringue, eat the cookies within the day.

Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread/Cake

I saw a recipe for Pull Apart Bread a while ago, but I was about nine months pregnant and working like mad so there was no way that it was going to happen.  So now that I am no longer pregnant and I stay up soooo much later (insert look of disbelief here) and have my hands free so often (insert second look of disbelief), I decided to make it finally.  We were planning a barbeque and I figured that it’s over-the-top sweetness would be good after all the saltiness of the meat.

The Pioneer Woman recently posted her version of pull apart bread using her cinnamon bun recipe.  Since I have adopted that recipe anyway and everyone likes it (a-hem younger brother who shall not be named), I figured I would try it. Also it doesn’t require a mixer to make, so any reason to have fewer dishes to wash.

Basically you follow the cinnamon bun recipe until the rolling out stage.  When it is rolled out, you just have to add more cinnamon/sugar over the melted margarine.  Then, instead of rolling it up, you slice the dough, width-wise into 5 inch strips.  Stack the slices, one on top of the other, sugar side up, until you have used all the slices.  Be careful because you will have melted margarine dripping everywhere.

Cinnamon-sugary goodness
Cinnamon-sugary goodness

Then slice your stack into six sections.  Carefully put each section sideways into a greased loaf-pan.  Let it rise and bake!

The glaze is the same as the cinnamon bun glaze, though I put a bit too much on my loaf so it was scarily sweet.  Moderation Elle! Portion control! And all of that.

Ready to go into the oven.
Ready to go into the oven.

Turned out delicious though, and the layers really did pull apart (due to all the fat in between them of course) and everyone enjoyed it, even Rocker Dude who was feeling a bit under the weather, and always prefers salty things when he is sick. Don’t worry, I made it up to him and made him a fresh pot of chicken soup the next day.

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread
Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Try this out! Everyone has to indulge some time!

Recipe (From The Pioneer Woman): (I only used half the recipe and it made one loaf with a bit left over.)

Note: the butter can be replaced with margarine and the milk with soymilk.

Dough
2 cups Whole Milk
1/2 cup Canola Oil
1/2 cup Sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
4 cups All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup (additional) All-purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 teaspoons Salt
1 stick Butter, Melted
1-1/2 cup Sugar
3 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon

Icing
3 cups Powdered Sugar
2 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
1 Tablespoon Maple Extract
1/3 cup Whole Milk
Dash Of Salt

To make the dough, combine milk, canola oil, and 1/2 cup sugar in a large saucepan. Heat it until very hot but not boiling. Turn off heat and allow to cool to warm (not at all hot.)

Sprinkle in the yeast and add 4 cups of flour. Stir to combine, then put lid on the pot and allow to rise for 1 hour. After 1 hour, stir in additional 1/2 cup flour, along with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. If dough is overly sticky, stir in another 1/2 cup flour.

Place dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour to make it easier to work with.

Roll out dough onto a floured surface. Drizzle on melted butter and smear so that it covers all the dough. Mix together the sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle it all over the surface of the dough. (Dough should look very covered.)

Cut the dough into 6 to 8 strips, then stack all the strips into one stack. Cut the stack of strips into 6 slices. Place the stacks sideways into a buttered bread pan. Do not cram the slices into the pan. (You may have a few leftover.)

Cover with a dish towel and allow to rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes to make sure it’s not getting too brown on top. It’s important to bake the bread long enough to ensure that the middle won’t be too doughy, because if it is it won’t pull apart easily. If the top looks like it’s getting too brown, cover it lightly with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking time.

Remove the pan from the oven when it’s done. Run a knife along the edges and take the bread out of the pan. Mix together the icing ingredients and drizzle over the top, allowing it to sink into the crevices. Serve warm or room temperature.

Last Minute Tu B’Shvat Treats – Date Truffles

Okay, it’s almost Tu B’Shvat, and you are still wondering what to do with all that dried fruit that you have stocked in your house. I mean, it’s all on sale and it’s such a great price, but what to do?  You can’t just eat it as is, get’s kind of monotonous and sweet after a few bites.  So what to do?

Make date truffles!  Takes all of 8 minutes from start to finish and requires no cooking/heating, etc. All you need are some dates and some cocoa powder – now- get to work.

Date Truffles rolled in cocoa powder
Date Truffles rolled in cocoa powder

Take 15 madjhoul dates and remove the pits (if they are not soft, then soak them in hot water for a few minutes). Put them in a food processor with two tablespoons cocoa powder.  Process until you have a smooth paste. Form small balls with the paste and roll them in some cocoa powder. You can also roll them in powdered sugar, or crushed almonds, or sprinkles for a more colorful truffle.  You can even dip them in melted chocolate.

Then end result is a delicious treat that is not too sweet (the slight bitterness of the unsweetened cocoa balances out the sweetness of the dates) and is great for a cultured Tu B’Shvat meal.

Date Truffles
Date Truffles (picture a la Smitten Kitchen)

So take 10 minutes out before Shabbat starts and make these for yourselves!

Fig Newtons – For Tu B’Shvat

Many years ago I bought Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to make much from the cookbook because every recipe usually has a lot of steps, and often requires ingredients that are difficult to get here, such as fresh berries, etc.  There was one recipe that has always stood out and begged me to make it.  Fig bars.  Or as we children of the nineties call them, Fig Newtons.

Fig Newtons
Fig Newtons

Another note on Sherry Yard, she was on Top Chef: Just Desserts and that was super cool.  She also works for Wolfgang Puck and he is a recurring judge on this season of Top Chef, so now that I have heard him speak, I re-read the forward to her book in his voice.  It was really cool.  I love Top Chef.

I have always loved Fig Newtons, and when you are stopping in the Hudson News in the train station, it was often one of the only kosher snack options, definitely the only pareve one.  High school was better with Fig Newtons.  Over the years there have been many Fig Newton knock-offs, such as strawberry or blueberry, but nothing compares to the original.

Cutting up the figs for the filling.
Cutting up the figs for the filling.

You would think that the recipe would be easy to make as Israel grows fresh figs and are readily available when they are in season.  But interestingly enough, these cookies need dried figs, something that is very hard to find in Israel.  I am not sure why this is the case, but for whatever reason, while you can get dried dates all the time, it is almost impossible to find dried figs.

So I gave up on making these cookies until Tu B’Shvat.  Around Tu B’Shvat, the dried fruit market expands and you can find a wide variety of dried fruits.  With all that, when I went to the supermarket on Thursday, there were no figs!! I went to a different store on Monday, and I finally found some.

In order for me to be able to have this post ready for Tu B’Shvat (yes, actually posting about a holiday before it happens), I made the filling a couple days before assembling the cookies.  Conveniently, Squeaker cooperated and let me cook while she slept in the stroller.  Thank you Squeaker!

Filling the cookies.
Filling the cookies.

The filling comes together really easily, and just needs to be boiled for a couple of hours – essentially making a jam. The dough is similarly easy to make.  I ended up making this over three days,  one day the filling, one day the dough, and the last assembly and baking.

Finished cookies.
Finished cookies.

While rolling out the dough, I did have some trouble because it was quite sticky, so I floured it up again and started rolling it out all over again.  Second time’s the charm!  I did not get as many cookies as Sherry says you are supposed to get (she says 40 – I got around 30), but they really do taste kike Fig Newtons, only better.

Fig Newtons
Fig Newtons

Happy Birthday trees!

Recipe (From Desserts by the Yard):

Filling:
1 cup dried figs, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. orange zest

Dough:
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 large egg white
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour

Combine the chopped figs, water, apple juice and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low  and cook at a simmer for 1 to 2 hours until the figs are so soft that they are spreadable. Transfer to a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Add the orange zest and process until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Cream the butter, vanilla sugar and orange zest for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the egg white and vanilla and beat in. Add the flour and beat on low until the dough comes together.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface into a 12 by 16 inch rectangle.  Cut into 4 equal strips, each 12 by 4 inches.  Spoon a line of filling down the center of each strip.  Fold the dough over the filling and pinch the edges together.  Place on the parchment paper, seam side down.  The bars can be frozen at this point for up to 2 weeks.

Using a serrated knife, slice each log on the diagonal into ten cookies. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cook on a rack.  The cookies will keep, stored airtight, for 2 days.