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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Fig Almond Tartelettes

The holidays are over!  After about three weeks of on-and-off holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth) we are finally returning to normal life.  Rocker Dude, the Little Rocker and I have had a lot of fun over the past few weeks.  We spent about a week and a half at the in-laws, and the Little Rocker was spoiled silly (isn’t that their job in the world?  I always thought so).  We also had a birthday party for her as you saw in this post, though I will make a separate post about the birthday cake – who likes Elmo?

On Friday I went to the Farmer’s Market here in Givat Shmuel as I usually do on Fridays.  I got the awesome pickles that I love from a kibbutz, and I looked around for other things to inspire me.  There was one stand with four different types of cherry/grape tomatoes – they were so fresh!  I brought about a kilo of those home, and then I saw the figs.  I thought I had missed fig season when it started in August because we then flew to the US and when we came back, all the figs that I saw were mushy and not appealing.  Not these figs.  They were soft but not mushy, and they tasted so good!  I have never had a fresh fig before as they are not common in the northeast being more of a warm weather fruit.  I was a little hesitant as I had tried fresh guavas last week and they were nasty.

Look at these beauts!

Dried figs are good, but after three or four, they kind of lose their appeal.  And dried figs feel like they are just full of seeds and nothing else.  So I bought a container and decided to bake something with them for the Sabbath.  I remembered seeing a lot of interesting recipes and as I have not baked anything really elegant in a while, I figured that something with figs qualifies as elegant.

I looked through some of the blogs that I follow, and came across this Fig and Almond Tartelette on Tartelette’s blog.  Her food always looks so elegant and her photography is gorgeous.  One day I hope that I can attend one of her  lectures on photography.

Almond Fig Tart

I know that Rocker Dude doesn’t like almonds, but he doesn’t like figs that much either, so I decided that this dessert was not for him – it was for the other 8 people at the table.  I made Tartelette’s pie crust, a crust that did not require refrigeration before rolling out, though I froze it for an hour before baking it.

Tart crust before adding liquid
Out with the old and in with the new. I got these from my mom's pantry when we went to the US in January, good thing I took both! Thanks Imma!

It did shrink a tiny bit, but not enough to ruin the shape.  I knew that we were going to be 9 people for dinner and I only have 8 tartelette pans, so I decided to make this into one big tart and serve it in slices.  In order to make sure I had enough, I doubled the recipe.  it made enough for one 10 inch tart and two 4 inch tartelettes. Although the recipe originally says to bake the crusts for 30 minutes, I decided to only parbake the crusts as they would be baked again and I did not want to overbake them.

All three tart crusts, parbaked.

The filling was really easy to make.  I ground up the almonds in the food processor and added the rest of the ingredients, including the rum and then poured it into the cooled tart crust.  I have to admit that it didn’t look like there would be enough filling to fill the big tart let alone the two little tartelettes.  But I trusted that Tartelette knows what she is talking about and indeed, I was wrong, and there was plenty.

The filling, before mixing.

Then I gently pressed the fig halves over the filling (after eating two of them) and baked them in the oven.  The filling rose to encase the figs gently.  When they came out, the tarts looked wonderful.

Almond Fig Tart

I did not have apricot jam to glaze the tarts, so I used strawberry.  I figure that if the figs already have a red sort of color, the faint pink of the strawberry and rum would not color the tart too much.  I was right.

A delicious bite.

The tart was well enjoyed by everyone (except for Rocker Dude), though you could really feel the alcohol.  My ex-roommate R. was over for the weekend and brought a nice dessert wine, and they paired very nicely together.  R. is training right now to run the Venice marathon at the end of the month – she is crazy.  But if anyone in the Jerusalem area is looking for a personal trainer or a massage therapist, she is certified in both and is really good.  (She used to practice on me and Rocker Dude while she was learning – free massages anyone?)

Make this tart – and feel fancy!

Recipe (adapted from Helene of Tartelette):

Fig Almond Tartelettes

Makes 1 10-inch tart and 2 4-inch tartelettes

For crust
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons ice water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For filling

2/3 cup whole almonds (about 4 ounces)
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
8 teaspoons rum
24 ounces ripe figs, cut into halves (about 8 )
1/2 cup strawberry (or apricot) jam

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine first 3 ingredients in processor. Using on/off turns, cut in butter until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Mix 4 tablespoons ice water and vanilla in small bowl. Pour water mixture over dough. Process until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Roll out on floured surface to 12-inch round.  Fit into tart pan and trim excess dough. Roll out the excess dough to fit the tartelette pans.  Freeze the dough in the pan for at least 30 minutes.  Using fork, pierce dough all over. Bake crust until pale golden, about 20 minutes (crust may shrink slightly). Cool on rack. Maintain oven temperature.

Make filling:
Finely grind almonds with sugar in processor. Add eggs, butter and 4 teaspoons rum. Process until batter forms. Pour filling into crust. Arrange fig halves atop filling. Bake until figs are tender and filling is golden and set, about 25 minutes.
Melt jelly with remaining 4 teaspoons rum in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat. Brush jelly mixture over figs. Cool tarts. Serve at room temperature.