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.

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