I received the Flour Bakery cookbook for Christmas this past year, and upon my initial flip through, these fig newtons were the first thing that jumped out at me. I've always loved store-bought fig newtons but since I try not to buy prepackaged cookies I rarely eat them anymore. I wanted to head to my kitchen and make this homemade version immediately! There was one tiny stumbling block though. I'd never eaten or worked with fresh figs so I didn't know when they were in season, or where to find them. A little bit of Googling seemed to indicate I probably wouldn't be able to buy fresh figs in this neck of the woods until the fall. It looked like I had a long wait ahead of me.
When September rolled around, I started keeping my eyes peeled for figs any time I was out shopping. Store after store, and even at the farmer's market, I struck out. Finally, in late September, I found 2 lonely pints of figs and snatched them up. I made this first batch of fig newtons almost immediately and enjoyed them so much, I resolved to make several more batches in the near future. Plus, I had friends who were really eager to try them too so I hoped to share. Sadly, I have yet to come across fresh figs again. Maybe they're just hard to come by in New England? Anyone have suggestions?
Though there are a few components, these cookies come together pretty easily. You start by making a homemade fig jam for the filling. It's a simple as simmering the figs with some fruit and sugar in a pot until they cook down to a jam-like consistency. The cookie shell for the filling is a tender shortbread and it is really delicious. I will warn you though, the dough is really soft (even chilled). It's a bit tricky to work with, but as long as you keep your surface well-floured and follow the instructions for using the parchment to help you fold the dough around the filling, it's very doable. I loved that even after baking, the cookies were soft and tender. Their texture is slightly crumbly thanks to the shortbread, which pairs perfectly with the sweet fig filling. These homemade fig newtons were definitely worth the 9 month wait. I just hope I can find more figs to bake them again sometime :)
from Flour by Joanne Chang and Christie Matheson
Fig Jam Filling
2 pints (680 g) Black Mission figs (about 30 figs)
1 orange, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup (110 g) packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (120 g) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the jam: Stem the figs and cut them into quarters. Add them to a medium saucepan with the orange pieces, brown sugar, lemon zest and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer (uncovered), stirring occasionally, until the figs soften and lose their shape and the mixture has a jam-like consistency, about 40 minutes. Turn off the heat under the pan and add the vanilla extract then let cool to room temperature. (You can make the jam up to 3 day ahead and store in the fridge.
To make the shortbread: Whisk both flours, the baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until well combined, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients to the mixer, beating until thoroughly combined. Transfer the dough to your work surface and shape into a disk that's about 6 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. You want the dough firm enough to roll, but still pliable. (You can keep the dough in the fridge for up to 5 days, or frozen for 1 month.)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Remove the dough from the fridge and place on a sheet of parchment that's been well floured. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 16x9 inches and 1/4-inch thick. Rotate and move the dough as you go to make sure it's not sticking - add more flour if it is. With a long edge of the rectangle facing you, place the jam in the center of the rectangle (going all the way from the left edge to the right edge), in a strip about 2 1/2 inches wide. Use the parchment to lift the edge farthest from you and drape it over the top half of the filling. Do the same with the bottom half of the dough - the edges of the dough should meet in the middle. Pinch the edges together to seal then turn so the seam-side is down. Brush any excess flour off the dough then lift the parchment and transfer it, along with the cookies, to a baking sheet.
Bake for 65-70 minutes, or until the shortbread is golden brown. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool for at least 2 hours. Use a sharp knife to slice the dough, on the diagonal, into 1-inch cookies. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.