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.

 

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Mini Mint Oreos ala Flour Bakery

March 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

From now on—for the rest of my life—whenever I say the word “oreo,” I am exclusively referring to the oreo as envisioned and interpreted into chocolate cookie and filling by Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery. Have one bite of the Flour Oreo and you will agree. That other … cookie … it’s a dime-a-dozen cookie. Flour’s oreo is a treat.

If there is one negative I have to nail onto Flour’s oreo, it’s that the chunk of dark chocolately heaven is too big. Is it possible? Slightly. That’s why I had the idea to make them smaller.

Last December I promised I would bring homemade oreos to a holiday party. The recipe – which is a slice-cookies-from-a-dough-log type of cookie – makes about 18 cookies. Definitely not enough for a holiday party. “Minis!” I thought. And why not add some peppermint flavoring for that added holiday pizzazz.

They were the hit of the party.

Well, Erin Go Bragh, it’s now St. Patrick’s Day. For St. Patty’s Day, you’ve got to do something green. Well, let’s add green food coloring to the oreo filling. And if the filling is going to be green, the eater of the cookie is expecting mint. Right?

Green Mint Oreos for St. Patrick’s Day. And minis, too.

Mini Mint Oreo Cookies ala Flour Bakery

Adjustments to Oreo cookie recipe ala Flour cookbook:

Dough log: After leaving dough to firm up for 1 hour, divide dough into 4 equal batches. Roll it into a 1-in. log on parchment paper, as opposed to the instructed 2.5-in log.

Mint: Add 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract. That’s enough! Seriously. All you need.

Green: Add 3-5 drops green food coloring. You can’t tell from the photo, but it’s a nice medium green.

The one thing that I would adjust next time … because the mixer really needs to beat in the food coloring, it makes the filling a bit softer than I’d like. I may decrease the addition of milk from 1 tbs to 1/2 tbs next time.

Peanut Butter Cookies a la Flour

February 19, 2011 § 4 Comments

I have a new baking strategy. About once a week I walk over to the nearby Flour Bakery, scan the luscious goodies within the glass case, and pick something. Just one thing. The intention is try my best to replicate Joanne’s tasty treats.

The first was the oatmeal raisin cookie. If you didn’t get the low-down on this oatmeal experience, look over there in the previous posts. It was an unscheduled lesson in the importance of expiration dates.

But, this is a new day. And a new cookie. Peanut butter. Mmmmm … peanut butter. Hers is a big, wide cookie. Dotted with bits of peanut. Crisp. A hint of salt and, surprisingly, a tad greasy. And a nice peanut butter flavor.

What baking lesson will I learn this time?

I’m happy to report that no catastrophes occurred with this recipe. I followed the recipe to the “t.” All the ingredients were fresh. And the cookies turned out fabulously.(Want the recipe? Buy the Flour cookbook!)

Mmmmm .... peanut butter cookies

But, did I replicate the cookie? No. My batch was lighter in appearance, a bit softer, less salty, and not as greasy. And they didn’t spread as much.

A Flour peanut butter cookie and one of my own

Why? Two reasons. First, the baking process. The recipe says to bake 18-20 minutes (as I recall, I don’t have the book nearby). But because ovens are always fickle things, I prefer to go by the look of the cookie. Joanne says to remove cookies from the oven when the just start to turn golden around the edges, with the middle remaining lighter (again, I don’t have the book with me, but I’m pretty sure that’s what she recommends). And because I prefer a slightly undercooked cookie, I took them out the millisecond I saw the edges browning up.  Yes, I crouched on the floor staring through the oven’s window.

Second, and what I account as the major factor in the differences between the two cookies … the peanut butter. The recipe called for a chunky peanut butter. I happened to have smooth. And unsalted. I had a jar of Teddie natural peanut butter, which tends to be thicker and less oily than those childhood favorites Peter Pan and Jiff. Whatever is in those brands that make them smooth and creamy, Teddie doesn’t have it. And I’m kinda glad it doesn’t. Those cookies rocked.

Ellen Bakes

January 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

“I really like to bake.”

Those very words can be found in my profile, and I’ve yet to write anything about baking on The Dainty Dot. This is, after all, the Year of Ellen Baking. As a comparison, 2010 was the Year of Ellen Sleeping and 2009 was the Year of Ellen Not Sending Cards. I decided to put a more positive spin on the “Year ofs” during this turn around the sun.

In fact, this blog was originally going to be called “Ellen Bakes.” Imagine when I heard that Martha is premiering a new show later this month called “Martha Bakes.” Coincidence? She must have bugged my house …

Am I baking today? No. This week? Probably not. Blame it on a preparation for a business trip/presentations coming up in a few days. But don’t you fear – I’ll be baking (said with a slight Arnold Schwarzenegger/Terminator affect).

Year of the Pie?

Coincidentally, I heard a buzz that 2011 will be the year of the pie. Sweet pies, savory pies, hand pies, round, square, pan—you put a crust of any sort on it, in it, around it, call it a pie and it’s a rock star this year. And, not to steal Martha’s catch phrase but … that is a good thing. Because Ellen bakes pies. Always have.

Pie crust is an amazing canvas. And really, I’m fixated on perfecting that canvas. I’ve in no way come even half way to making a top-notch crust, but I love the challenge. Fillings? Yeah, ok – it’s the stuff of the pie. But I always remember the crust.

Best pie crust ever is my mom’s crust from my childhood. The flakiest ever, thanks to lard. Rendered from our own pigs. Didn’t mean to skeeve you out but when you grow up on a farm you can expect that sort of thing. Alas, no more lard for mom and dad. Doctors orders.

The loveliest pie combination: Peach-rhubarb, also from fruit grown right on the property. “Peaches? Rhubarb? How are they ever in season at the same time?,” you ask. They aren’t. But as the peaches come on, along with every other fruit and veg roundabout August, and you’re looking for room to store stuff in the chest freezer, you spot the frozen rhubarb. “Hmmmm … let’s make a pie,” is the natural solution.

Flour Bakery + Cafe

Down the block from me is a bakery that is pretty well known – Flour Bakery + Cafe, run by baking’s “It Girl,” Joanne Chang. Awesome place. the line is pretty much always out the door – which is why I don’t really go there too very often. But when I do, it’s oh so good.

Joanne has recently published a cookbook based on recipes she uses at Flour. Bitten with the baking bug, I had to get myself a signed copy, just in time to bake for the holidays. Now, I’m not really a sweets baker – pies are the exception – but the recipes for grown-up oreos and pop-tarts are really spectacular. Every reason to name the book “Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe.”

Okay, folks – I gotta go get a move-on with that presentation. But, let me leave you with a drool-inducing image of my apple cinnamon pop-tarts baked word for word (almost) from the Flour cookbook. Yum ….

 

Pop tarts, from Joanne Chang's awesome new cookbook

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