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Make fig bars!

Make fig bars!

His Lordship’s father has quite the green thumb, and grows a variety of fruit in a backyard micro-orchard.  Each fall, he has a bumper crop of figs, which he painstakingly stems, halves, and dries.  Since fig season immediately precedes His Lordship’s birthday, around this time each year we receive a care package bearing a card and a gift, plus many zip-top bags full of beautifully jade-and-tan seedy little hemispheres.

They are delicious, completely organic, better than any you could get in a store, and utterly free.  They are also so copious that we always end up putting the half-full box on top of the fridge before Thanksgiving, and there they’ll remain in suspended animation until we remember they exist, probably shortly before the next batch is due.

Vowing to do better this year, I seized one of the bags for immediate use in baking.  After the success of the granola bars, I aimed for a not-too-sweet cookie that leaned toward a breakfast bar and could be snarfed between classes.  The need for portability meant that instead of my usual press-in-the-pan layered approach, I would have to go to the extra effort of rolling out dough to fully enclose the sticky figgy filling.  I also wanted to make it a little healthier by using whole wheat pastry flour in addition to all-purpose.

Since the interwebs didn’t offer any one recipe for a fig cookie or filled cereal bar that seemed to fit all my needs, I ended up combining elements from around five different recipes in addition to my own ideas, and am quite pleased with the outcome.  Flavoring the figs with orange and just a hint of cardamom gave them a boost without detracting from their essential figgyness, and the whole wheat pastry flour added a nutty roundness that supported the homey and crackly filling without making the cookies punitively cardboardy, as whole wheat pastries can sometimes be.

These bars have a just-sweet-enough, not-too-rich quasi-cakey wholesomeness that is just right for this time of year and perfect with a cup of tea.  Since I think my father-in-law would approve, and in keeping with the tradition whereby Fig Newtons got their name, I’m naming these after the California birthplace of the figs.

Fig bar assembly

Fig bar assembly

Incidentally, His Lordship’s family is also an excellent source of lemons, which I certainly would never dream of complaining about.  When we still lived in the vicinity, I used to bring home huge grocery bags full of regular and my best-beloved Meyer lemons from each gathering of the in-laws.  Now that we’re back on the same coast, I fully intend to haul back as much as I can from our holiday visit.

Fig Fremont Bars
Makes 40-50 1-inch bars

Dough:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Filling:
2 cups halved dried green figs
1 teaspoon dried orange rind or 1 tablespoon grated fresh orange zest
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups orange juice
2 cups water
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 pinches salt

Raw sugar for sprinkling

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well between additions, then beat in the vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Add the dry ingredients to the mixer, and combine well.  (Since these will be rolled out and do need some tensile strength, for once you don’t have to be too paranoid about over-mixing, but don’t walk away from the mixer either.)  Divide dough in half and place each half in its own quart-sized zip-top bag, patting and squishing into an even, flat square.  Chill dough for at least an hour.

While the dough is chilling, place the figs, orange rind or zest, sugar, juice and water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the figs are very tender, 30-40 minutes.  If necessary, cover the pan halfway through to prevent the liquid from evaporating completely.

When the figs are tender, remove from the heat and blend with an immersion blender (or in a food processor or blender) until smooth.  Stir in the cardamom and salt, and set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using scissors, trim the top and sides off the first bag of dough, flip the bag open, and turn the dough gently out onto another sheet of parchment.  Cover the dough with either the cut-open bag or more parchment to prevent it sticking to the rolling pin, and roll into a long rectangle approximately 18 inches by 6 inches, squaring off the edges with a pizza cutter or sharp knife if needed.

Spread half the filling lengthwise down the center third of the dough, leaving space at the top and bottom for proper sealing.  Brush the exposed dough with water, then use the parchment to flip each edge lengthwise over the filling, overlapping slightly in the middle.  Press the edges together gently to seal.

Turn the roll onto the baking sheet on the diagonal, seam side down.  Brush the top of the roll with water and sprinkle liberally with raw sugar.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and beginning to crack slightly along the top.  Remove from oven and set on a wire rack to cool while repeating the process with the remainind dough and filling.

When the rolls are mostly or completely cooled, slice into inch-wide bars with a serrated knife.

Notes:

The small amount of cream cheese adds both flavor and flexibility to the dough, a trick I picked up from (big surprise) Cook’s Illustrated’s holiday all-in-one cookie dough recipe.  You could leave it out, if you prefer not to open a new container of cream cheese for just one tablespoon.

If these aren’t sweet enough for you, you could glaze the bars with a simple icing of powdered sugar thinned with milk or more orange juice to a drizzling consistency.

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