BETTER FIG NEWTONS

What to do when life gives you figs? Make fig newtons, of course! These bear very little resemblance to the lunchbox staple (that I never particularly enjoyed): I began with a homemade jam of fresh figs, then wrapped it in a blanket of tender and flaky cream-cheese pastry dough, finishing with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. The jewel-pink filling (seemingly seed-free), encased in pastry, is a brilliant way to showcase the natural sweetness and versatility of fresh figs. Although you could certainly mimic the effect with dried, and rehydrated, figs, something would be lost in the translation. For me, the fresh figs capture that ephemeral, end-of-summer flavor feeling and flavor.

This recipe is certainly worth the labor. None of the steps are particularly hard; they just take some time. I begin with the pastry, so it can chill while you make the jam. The jam isn’t particularly needy, so you may attend to it only occasionally, while doing other constructive things around the kitchen.

Pastry:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room-temperature
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room-temperature
  • Cinnamon sugar (optional)

Jam:

  • 2 lbs fresh figs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Juice of half a lemon

To make pastry: in a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. In a large bowl, using either a standing mixer or a handheld one, beat the butter and cream cheese until well-combined. Add flour mixture, and beat until combined into a sticky dough. Turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap it up, and press down to flatten a bit. Chill in refrigerator while making jam.

To make jam: wash and roughly chop figs. In a saucier or medium sauce pan, combine figs, sugar, and lemon juice. Mash mixture a few times with a potato masher or fork. Cook mixture over medium-high heat until bubbling and sugar has dissolved; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until it has reduced by about one-third and is beginning to gel. Set aside until completely cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut dough into four pieces. On a well-floured surface, roll the first piece out to about 12 inches by 6 inches. Place on cookie sheet. Spread about 1/4 cup of the cooled jam along half of the sheet of pastry, lengthwise (ie, the 12-inch side), leaving a 1/2-inch border along the edges. Fold the other, naked side of the pastry over the jam-spread side, and press down on edges to seal. Create tiny slits with a knife on surface of pastry, about 2 inches apart, to allow air to escape while baking. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if desired. Repeat with remaining three sections of dough, ending with 2 pastries on each cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, or until pastry is just beginning to turn golden.

Cool on cookie sheets for 10 minutes, then slice into bars. Try making one slice length-wise, then making 2-inch cuts horizontally, to mimic the size and shape of actual Fig Newtons. It’s important not to let them get too cool before slicing; otherwise, the pastry becomes too flaky, and doesn’t contain the filling as well. Similarly, don’t slice them straight out of the oven, or the filling will ooze out. Enjoy