Last fall I was on a mission to make homemade fig newtons, which had always been one of my favorite treats as a kid. There was only one problem - the recipe I wanted to use called for fresh figs and they were pretty much impossible to find. I went crazy looking for them, literally driving to every store within a 20 mile radius on the off chance that it might be the one place to carry them. I felt like I'd won the lottery when I finally came across 2 pints :) I made those fig newtons, and they were everything I hoped they'd be, but I was still eager to find a recipe I could bake more than once a year!
Fast forward a few months and Michelle over at Brown Eyed Baker blogged about a recipe that called for dried figs instead. Though I'd never bought them, I'd seen dried figs at Trader Joe's every time I'd been there, so I knew they were readily available. Plus, the recipe came from an America's Test Kitchen magazine (which of course this magazine addict already owned), and I'm a big fan of all they do, so I had high hopes.
The process of making these fig newtons was pretty similar to the ones I'd made last year. The figs are cooked down until they have a jam-like consistency, then that filling is encased in a soft, shortbread-like dough. There's almost nothing easier than making bar cookies, and these came together in no time. The only slightly tricky thing about the recipe is that the dough is pretty sticky, but if you work on greased parchment, it's very doable. I definitely enjoyed the cookies, they were really quite similar in taste to the fig newtons I'd loved as a kid. The texture of the cookie was almost perfectly replicated, and the filling was pretty darn close too, though I wish it had been just a tad sweeter. It's an easy fix, next time I'll add a little bit of sugar when I cook down the figs. And I love that I can say confidently that there will be a next time, and it won't involve driving all over multiple states to find the figs :)
If you're wondering, I do think I slightly preferred the version made with fresh figs, but this recipe is a VERY good back-up for those other 11 1/2 months of the year when dried figs are the only option!
from America's Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies
8 oz dried Turkish or Calimyrna figs, stemmed and quartered
2 cups apple juice
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on opposite sides to lift the bars out. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
Add the dried figs, apple juice and salt to a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the figs break down and the mixture is soft and syrupy, about 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add to the bowl of your food processor along with the lemon juice. Pulse until the mixture has a jamlike consistency.
Whisk both flours, the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, beating until completely incorporated. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Measure out 3/4 cup of the dough and set aside. Transfer the remaining dough to the prepared pan and press into an even layer in the bottom.
Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, roll the dough you set aside into an 8-inch square (it's easier if you do it between greased sheets of parchment). Place the square in the freezer until firm.
When the crust has finished baking, spread the fig "jam" evenly over it. Place the frozen square of dough on top. Bake for another 25-30 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and let the bars cool completely, at least 2 hours. Use the foil to lift the bars out and cut them into squares for serving.