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.

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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.

 

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Apple Hand Pies

March 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

March 14. Or, 3.14. Known throughout the world as Pi Day in honor of that irrational number beginning with 3.14. But wait – wouldn’t they write it 14.3 in Europe?

I would rather consider it Pie Day. It’s the middle of March—we need a good pie this time of year. I’m all for it, quite honestly. Think about it—have you eaten pie since Thanksgiving? I didn’t think so.

I decided to make pie yesterday for Pie Day. But what kind? My go-to pies are those traditional fruity treats—peach, rhubarb, peach rhubarb (see a theme here?), apple, pumpkin. Nah. What about a cream pie? They get runny after a few days. The problem with any of these pies (if there can be a problem with pie) is that they are so darn big for two people (I know, I could invite you over but…). And as much as I’d like to eat an entire pie, I just can’t do it. At the last piece, all old and soggy, I begin to detest it. We must not go there. Can’t ruin pie like that.

So I decided on hand pies: Pies that fit into your hand. Individual servings of pie, all wrapped up in their individual casings. Perfect! Thing is, I’d never made hand pies before. What to do? What to make?

A little Googling got me to the Smitten Kitchen blog and her recipe for Bourbon Peach Hand Pies. Hmmm…peaches. Peaches and bourbon. And, according to the recipe, this dough holds up to the inevitable leaks that result in boiling hot fruit juicy spilling away, while also being light and flaky. Print it up—I’m in.

Alas, Trader Joe had other dessert intentions for me. Not a fresh peach to be found. So apples it was.

Before I get to the recipe, a few notes about it and the resulting pies:

  • I used a food processor. When you have one, use it.
  • The dough did exactly what she said it would—it held up well, didn’t leak (much) and is tasty and flaky. I’m definitely keeping it in my repertoire. BUT—it’s not really a pie dough. It’s more of a flaky morning pastry. Which is fine, just not very pie-ey.
  • I used the same amount of apples as peaches the recipe called for. WAY TOO MUCH. Below is my estimation of half the recipe.
  • The filling I made was tasty but  1) wasn’t juicy enough – maybe more sugar or let it sit longer? and 2) not enough of it in the pie. But that’s all I could fit in the dough rounds while still being able to close them securely. I’ll just need to experiment more, won’t I? One thought is to slice the apples (or peaches) lengthwise and layer the slices in the center of the dough rounds.

Apple Hand Pies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Bourbon-Peach Hand Pies)IMG_3801
For the pastry dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour placed in bowl of food processor and chilled one hour in freezer
1/2 tsp. salt
2 8 oz. sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces, placed into small bowl and chilled for 1 hour in freezer
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cups ice water

For the filling:1 lb. apples, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbs. flour
2-4 tbs. sugar (the more sugar, the juicier it should be if you let it sit awhile)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. lemon zest

To finish:
Egg wash (One egg yolk beaten with 2 tbs. water)
Sanding sugar
1. Remove bowls from freezer. Add salt to the flour and stir. Place flour bowl onto food processor and add in chilled butter. Using 2- to 3-second pulses, whir up the flour and butter until the mixture looks like course corn meal.

2. Combine sour cream, lemon juice and ice water to a small bowl and whisk until combined. Add to flour-butter mixture one half at a time, whirring in between. You’re looking for large clumps to form. Turn clumps out onto a work surface and bring mixture together with your hands to form a big ball. WARNING: Dough will be sticky. Lightly flour your hands before touching dough. Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour. (At this point dough can be frozen up to one month. If doing so, wrap in something a bit more freezer proof.)

3. Divide dough ball into quarters. Work with one quarter at a time, leaving the others in the fridge while you work. Lightly flour the work surface (keep that flour handy). Roll the dough into a 1/8-in. thickness. Using something round with a 4.5-inch diameter, cut rounds out of the dough. NOTE: Only thing I had available was a 1-quart plastic container similar to the kind you’d get filled with potato salad at a deli. It’s about 4 inches, but it works. Use what you have on hand. Transfer these dough rounds onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and pop into the fridge. Repeat with other dough balls, filling up the parchment, and layering additional parchment on top of the previous. Keep these rounds chilled for 30 min. or more.

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4. Filling: While the dough rounds chill, add the finely chopped apple to a large bowl. Add in the flour, sugar, pinch of salt and lemon zest. Let sit until the dough rounds are ready – this will let the sugars produce some juicy apple goodness—something I didn’t do this time around.

5. Assembly: Remove chilled dough from fridge and let them sit for 2-3 minutes to get a bit more workable. Spoon in about 1-2 tbs. of the apple mixture into the center of the round (more for larger circles, less for smaller). Brush the dough edges with water and fold one half over to meet the other to form a half circle. Seal it lightly with your thumb, then press closed with the back of a fork. Place each little pie back onto the parchment and return to the fridge for another 30 minutes.

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ANOTHER OPTION: Place a slightly larger amount of apple mixture onto the center of one round and place another round on top, stretching the top dough a bit so it meets the bottom’s edges. Seal as before. This makes a fun UFO-shaped pie.

6. Heat oven to 375. Removing the pies from the fridge, give each one a small slice of poke with a fork (to let steam out). Lightly brush each pie with the egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional of course but yummy). Bake until the pies are golden brown – 20 to 23 minutes. Remove and let cool.

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If you serve them still slightly warm, you’ll want to serve with vanilla ice cream. Otherwise, these are excellent pastries to have on hand for breakfast.

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Seriously bummed that Trader Joe’s didn’t have peaches. What would you fill these with? Any suggestions for other dough that might be more like a traditional pie?

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