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Prelude to Fig Newtons by Cynthia Briscoe
Late September, I stopped by my favorite fig bush. As I approached through the rustling dry grass, a whooshing flush of birds took flight, taking my breath with them. What a magnificent thriving shelter, not only for birds, but also opossums, raccoons and rabbits as evidenced by the scat leading away from the colony along narrowly worn trails pressed through the parted grass.
This fig bush forms a 30-foot crown sitting on the head of a hill overlooking stretches of straw-colored grassland and the glistening shallow waters of the Afterbay, where frigid snowmelt river water is warmed before flooding rice fields.
I first walked the circumference of the fig bush. The dome of tangled branches dangled blushing golden pouches coquettishly winking and then disappearing behind leafy sunshades. The second pass, I filled a bag with fruit, occasionally testing the sweetness and ripeness of a particularly alluring fig.
My legs started feeling strangely heavy. Had I sampled too many ripe figs? I looked down at my feet and I was walking on about 3 inches of fig paste stuck to the bottom of my shoes! I moonwalked away from the bush with the bag of fig loot, scraping my soles clean before climbing into the truck.
When I got home, I separated the super-ripe figs and placed the less-than-ripe figs on covered baskets to dry. In the end, all the figs were pureed. There’s something kind of sexy about figs. They’re kind of naughty and kind of nice. Perfect for a mischievous cookie-baking elf!
That is the prelude for how the following recipe was born. As I serve guests during the holidays, my hope is that if they close their eyes and chew slowly, maybe, just maybe they might taste clear blue sky, sunshine, parched grasses and a flock of birds taking flight.
For the filling:
15-20 unsulphured dried figs
¼ C maple syrup
½ tsp. orange zest
Pinch of salt
For the cookie dough:
½ cup rolled oats
1 C whole-wheat pastry flour
1 C unbleached white flour
¼ tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup safflower oil
1/3 tsp. sea salt
1/2 C ice water
¼ C maple syrup
Making the dough:
1. Add all the dry ingredients to the food processor to turn the oats into
2. Add the oil and process until well mixed.
3. Add the maple syrup and slowly mix in the ice water. Mix until
4. Form into an elongated ball.
5. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until
about 1/8 inch thick. As much as possible, roll the dough into a
rectangle. Patch and cut the edges to make even.
6. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper.
Making the filling:
1. In a food processor, process the filling ingredients to make a thick
paste. If the paste is dry, add a few drops of water at a time.
2. Blend and set the paste aside.
Putting the cookies together:
1. The easiest way to handle the sticky filling is to use a cookie press
without the tip, just using the ring that holds the tip in place. This
makes it easy to lay down a thick line of fig paste.
2. Make a line of fig paste about ¾ inch wide along the wide length of
the dough rectangle, about an inch away from the dough edge.
3. Lift up the edge of the parchment paper and roll the dough over the
top of the fig paste. Lift up and gently roll the dough around the fig
paste. Cut along the edge of the cookie roll.
4. Repeat with the next roll.
5. Transfer the rolls onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
6. Lightly roll the rolling pin across the top of the cookie rolls to flatten
6. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes.
7. Cool completely before slicing.
Makes 20 cookies.
Options: Instead of fig paste, make a fruit paste with other unsulphured dried fruit such as apples, pears or a combination of dried cranberries and raisins. If the fruit is very dry, add a spoonful of apple juice or water at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Depending on the fruit used, the filling may or may not need added sweetener.
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