Cookie of the Month: Folding a homemade Fig Newton

A Fig Newton is one cookie I don’t feel too guilty about eating. It’s filled with dried fruit filling, right? And it’s not terribly sweet, its modest cookie crust is minimal, so you almost feel as if you are eating something more akin to a granola bar.

I won’t dissect the truth to that by making myself aware of the nutritional content, but, I do know that the original brand, as well as other versions of fig bars, are tasty and, in my book,  just across the line for being healthy compared to cookies that are buttery, chocolate or cream-filled.

I always thought it would be fun to make a homemade Fig Newton or fig bar of some sort, and Stella Parks’ “Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts” (W.W. Norton; 2017) helped me realize that project. Parks’ book is full of homemade versions of our classic favorite cookies and other goodies. Among her recipes is a homemade Fig Newton with numerous variations beyond the classic fig, including strawberry-apricot and blueberry (for the recipe and variations: https://www.seriouseats.com/homemade-fig-newtons-recipe).

Reading over the recipe, I knew the cookie would be far more rich and flavorful than the purchased version. The dough for the cookie was not only buttery, but tender, including three egg yolks in the mix.

The dough also included orange zest and juice, honey, cinnamon and brown sugar, all of which would contribute layers of flavor.

The butter, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, honey and zest are first blended together, then the orange juice is added and the egg yolks, one at a time. The flour is sprinkled in, then mixed to make a sturdy, but pliable dough that was a lovely golden brown and smelled heavenly.

The dough is shaped into a ball and then into a disc that is refrigerated for a good amount chilling time.

On to the filling! I bought dark Mission figs for the this recipe, but I was also considering all the variations the filling could be and came up with a twist of my own.

Apricots! One of my favorite dried fruits and certainly one of my favorite flavors of jam, I thought their bright tartness would be a nice accompaniment to the darker, deeper and more subtle flavor of the figs. So these would be Fig-Apricot Newtons.

This genius filling also includes applesauce for moisture and more fruit flavor (as well as natural sugar) and a little orange juice.

The filling ingredients are blended together to a semi-smooth paste in the food processor, then loaded into a pastry bag with a large plain tip.

The chilled dough is rolled out to a large square.

Then the square of dough is cut into long strips, about 4 inches wide. Mine ended up not quite making as many strips as was described in the recipe, as I was having some issues with the dough cracking, so I only rolled so far. 

I squeezed out filling along the middle of the lengths of dough in a semi-even amount.

The dough is folded up over the length of filling, pressing down to flatten the dough bar. Despite having some dough cracking issues, the bars came together as they should, just not as pretty as Parks’ version.

The dough bars (seam side down) are carefully transferred to parchment-lined baking sheets. Before baking, I decided to pretty mine up with a little sanding sugar sprinkled on top for a sweet, textural crunch (why not?).

The bars, with all those aromatic ingredients, baked up beautifully. You could smell all the layers of flavor —  even the honey — in the dough.

While the bars are still hot, you use a bench knife to cut them into individual cookies. This was fun, seeing all the little Newtons start to look like, well, Newtons! The Newtons were wrapped up while hot and put in an airtight container to steam as they cooled, keeping them from drying out.

My finished Newtons, while a little craggy, cracked and wrinkly, were still a delightful sight, with that rich filling peeking out from the sides.

Any misgivings I had about appearance were forgotten upon first bite. Oh my! So delicious! They were like heavenly little pastries. The cookie crust was unbelievably tender and flavorful, with every layer — orange, honey, cinnamon — coming through. The filling was like having a tiny taste of the best pie, made complete by the addition of the applesauce for a juicy fullness in cookie form. It would be hard to eat a purchased Fig Newton or fig bar from now on, with those little golden-brown delights on my mind. But knowing they can be made again helped a little.

For the recipe for Homemade Fig Newtons go to https://www.seriouseats.com/homemade-fig-newtons-recipe.

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