Homemade Fig Newtons

April 2, 2013 § 2 Comments

My mother is a sucker for cookies of any kind. And I, being her offspring, somehow inherited that trait. She would bake cookies, yes. But wasn’t it more exciting to experiment with the cookie treasures found on store shelves? Oh, what those Keebler Evles did to us. Chocolate-covered anything went directly into our shopping cart. Those chocolate-covered marshmallow puffs on a graham cracker-like cookie were Mom’s favorite. I also had a soft spot for those styrofoam-like wafer cookies with “vanilla creme” sandwiched inside.

But what I really, really liked were fig newtons.

I contend that I never ate that many fig newtons. Not really. Just one box on average a year. Thing is, I would eat an entire sleeve of them at each sitting. Why else would they put them in a sleeve? Ah, logic of childhood. And to have that metabolism again…

A few years ago when I saw that Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook had a recipe for fig newtons, I was surprisingly conflicted. I love fig newtons—so wouldn’t gourmet fig newtons be the bomb? But … do I want the ability to create something so cravingly delicious? I mean, I’m not a calorie counter but these could be dangerous.

It took me three years to work up the nerve, but I finally made Flour’s fig newtons this weekend. Homemade fig jam in a shortbread cookie. Yes, they are cravingly delicious. Yes, it requires self control to not eat the entire batch. They’re also nothing like the original fig newton. It’s more of a pastry, really…like a slice of fig pie with a shortbread crust. This is dessert worthy of far more than a sleeve. This is a dessert of adult sophistication.

Homemade Fig Newtons (from Joanne Chang’s Flour Cookbook) IMG_3915
Fig Jam Filling
2+ pints ripe black mission figs, stems removed and figs quartered (2 is too little, 3 makes slightly too much)
1 orange, peeled, seeded and finely chopped (try to remove the white pith and membrane, too)
110 grams light brown sugar
1 tbs finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Shortbread Dough
1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter at room temp
75 grams granulated sugar
2 tbs confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
140 grams all-purpose flour
120 grams cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt

1. Make the filling: Place quartered figs into a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan. Add orange, brown sugar, lemon zest and salt. Heat on medium to simmer. Reduce to medium-low and simmer, uncovered for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. The mixture will turn into something reminiscent of jam. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Let cool completely and set aside for 2 hours. (You can also refrigerate for up to three days in an airtight container.)

2. Start to make the dough: Using a KitchenAid mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and both sugars on medium speed until mixture is fluffy. This takes about 5 minutes with stoppages now and then to scrape sides of bowls and the paddle. Once that is fluffy, add in egg yolk and vanilla on medium (stopping and scraping) for another 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Separately combine the two flours, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and sift or mix it together well (I added all into a sieve to sift). Add these dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with the mixer on low, and let it combine for another 15 seconds or so. Do the stop-and-scrape thing again.

4. Cut a large piece of plastic wrap and scoop out the dough onto it. Wrap it up well and press the dough into a 6-in. disk about an inch thick. Pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. At this point you can store it for up to 5 days or freeze it. If in the fridge for a long while, let it come to room temp for about 30 minutes before working it. If in the freezer, let it thaw out in fridge overnight.

5. Heat oven to 350F. While that is heating up, upwrap the dough disk and place onto a large piece of parchment paper. Add a bunch of flour to the parchment and onto a rolling pin, then gently roll the dough into a rectangle about 9 in. by 16 in. and about a 1/4-in. thick. Be careful not to pull or push the dough as this dough tears easily. Fix any tears by pressing together with your fingertips. I found it useful to trim the edges straight (saving the extra dough for treats later!).

6. With the long edge of the dough facing you, spoon the jam lengthwise across the center of the dough, left to right. The width of this jam “river” should be about 2.5 inches. You might not be able to fit all of the jam onto the dough. That’s okay—it’s tasty on toast. Once the jam river is down, you’ll grab the left and right edges of the parchment above the jam river and fold it down overtop of the jam. The dough should fold halfway down over the jam. Do the same with the bottom half of the dough, folding it up. Take pains to make sure these two dough halves meet in the middle, not overlapping and not having a gap. Side by side is what you are looking for. Once that happens, pinch those two dough halves together to seal, as well as the ends. Now, flip the jam-filled dough log over so the seam is on the bottom. Be careful! You may need to finagle it with adding another piece of parchment and rolling it over. Use your brain to figure it out.

IMG_3907

Use your brain to figure out how to turn this jam-filled log seam-side down without damaging it.

Use your brain to figure out how to turn this jam-filled log seam-side down without damaging it.

6 optional. At this point you can wrap it up and refrigerate or place in the freezer.

7. Pop it in the oven for 60 minutes or until golden brown all over. The recipe says 65-70 minutes, but it really depends on your oven. My edges were getting awfully dark, so I opted to take it out 5 minutes early. Let it cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours—I know, it’s a crazy long time but you want the jam to firm up a bit. Once cool, cut into 1-in. pieces crosswise. Enjoy with hot tea or coffee. And realize things are so much better than when you were a kid.

 

Quick Crackers

February 22, 2013 § 3 Comments

Sometimes after dinner you’re just hungry all over again. It happens. And it’s understandable if, say, you’ve been on a 12-consecutive-day yoga binge.

Open the cabinets. Raisins: Nope, not substantial enough. Almonds: It’s got the crunch but they aren’t gonna cut it. Not tonight. The bag of chips (healthy chips, of course) disappeared last night. There’s a nice hunk of Jarlsberg in the fridge…where’d the crackers go? Oh, they went away as a quick pre-yoga snack the other afternoon.

Bummer. I. Am. HONGRY. Hongry, by the way, is when you are very, very hungry.

But wait. I’m a baker. I’m not going to complain. I have the power to make my own crispy-crunchy goodness. And quickly, too.

I recalled I had found a super-good and super-quick herbed flatbread recipe on the Shutterbean blog not long ago. It was within my power to make these quick crackers – quackers? – before I became HANGRY, which means to be angry due to hunger. And since I had made them once previously, I new the tricks and adaptations to get these in and out of the oven in less than 20 minutes.

So, if you suddenly have guests or are ravenously empty-stomached and have nothing in the house, don’t complain. Put your baking cap on.

Quite complaining. Make your own crackers.

Quite complaining. Make your own crackers.

Quick Herbed Crackers (adapted from a recipe on Shutterbean)

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil – keep the bottle handy
  • Some fancy salt if you have it

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Really, this will be the longest step in the whole process.
2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and give it a quick stir to mix.
3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add in the water and oil. Fold in the flour mixture with a spoon or large fork until its nicely incorporated.
4. Turn out the dough onto a work surface. No need for additional flour—this dough will not stick! Amazing and true. It’s the olive oil. Give it a really quick knead – a 5 or 6 times maybe – to make sure the dough is all snug together. Cut the dough ball into 3 chunks.
5. Roll out one dough ball until it’s super thin. You can roll it on the work surface or on a piece of parchment. Just be sure if you roll it out on the work surface that you can get it onto parchment with no problem. Roll into into whatever shape you want – it doesn’t have to be round. Color outside the lines with this.
6. Once on the parchment, experience has shown me to use a fork to prick the dough surface. Otherwise I ended up with super-big air bubbles in the finished cracker. Looked kinda cool and rustic, but not what I was looking for. After pricking, brush a tiny bit of olive oil on the dough surface and sprinkle some fancy schmancy salt on top. I happened to have some pink Himalayan sea salt on hand. Tasty.
7. Pop it into the oven. The recipe says 8-10 minutes. For crispy, keep it in 10 min, or even more. I’d say keep an eye on it and pull it out once it looks darker than you’d like. It all depends on your oven, really.
8. Let cool on a wire rack. Or not if you can’t resist.
9. While one is cooking you can roll out the other and put on new parchment. Recipe says to hold off on the oil and salt until just before popping into the oven, but I forgot for one of them and it was fine.

herbed cracker

A few notes:

  • The recipe called for fresh rosemary. I didn’t have any on hand, but recalled that if using dried herbs in place of fresh that one should use 1/3 the amount. So, if you’re using fresh rosemary, use 1 tbs of finely chopped herb.
  • Try it with other herbs, too. Sage, for instance. But use less since sage is mighty powerful.
  • It’s a throw-it-together kinda recipe, but be precise with the oil and water measurements. I used too much of one of them last night and the dough came out sticky enough to actually stick to the work surface. Lesson learned—I’ll never eyeball a 1/3 cup of liquid again.

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