I have a fig tree in the backyard. How incredible is that? Like apricots, I didn’t even really know you could just, like, eat a fig. It’s crazy world out here.
I started by making some fig jam. And my housemate made some balsamic-fig sauce. And I made a fig frangipane tart. And we ate figs. That used up the figs for a while… and then the second crop came in. They came in and they were almost rotting on the tree. Ack! All of this while we were inundated with blackberries and in the midst of making blackberry jam and blackberry pear sauce. Figs! So good! But what were we going to do with them?
It happened that we had been hiking, and our friend Autumn had been eating fig newtons. Hmmm. That got me thinking… I bet you could make fig newtons. And I bet they’d be really good.
I got kind of curious about what makes a fig newton a fig newton, so I went Joe Pastry all over it and delved into the interwebs. It turns out that fig rolls have been around for thousands of years, and were eaten by sailors around the Mediterranean and Middle East to stay healthy. There’s one myth that newtons are named after a Syrian Jew named Nuhtan who farmed figs in the 15th century, but I’m not sure if I believe it. What is indisputably true is that fig newtons in the form known by American schoolkids were invented in the early 1890s and named after Newton, Massachussetts. The U.S. went from consuming fairly few figs to being the largest consumer in the world based almost wholly on the popularity of the fig newton.
So I didn’t really get my answer about what defines a fig newton, but I did get some interesting history. I based by recipe on one from food52, a wonderful site, and used entirely whole wheat flour in the cookie part.
In the end, they were pretty much what I was hoping for: fig newtony, with a cakey cookie and a sweet, sticky filling, but more grown-up, and a lot more tasty. The fig filling had orange juice and spices in it; I am not sure what Nabisco puts in their newtons, but citrus and spice is a very nice thing to pair with a fig. It was GOOD.
I’m pretty sure that you could make fig newtons using dried figs and just soak them in boiling water until they plump up, then cook them. No promises, but if you have nostalgia for the snacks you had in your lunchbox in elementary school and don’t live in a figgy locale, I’d say try it!
What a great after-work snack. Yum.
Adapted slightly from a recipe by vrunka at food52.
Stir together the melted butter and brown sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour. In the meantime, make the fig filling.
Cut the figs and pear into very small pieces and place in a saucepan with all the other ingredients. Heat over low heat at first until the sugar dissolves in the juices of the fruit, then heat over medium heat, at a low boil, until the mixture is thick and jam-like. It will gel further as it cools, so you don’t have to wait until it is completely thick; don’t turn it into cement! Let the filling sit and cool for half an hour at least before proceeding.
When you’re ready, divide the dough in half and roll each half into a large square. From here, you have a couple of options. If you want to be fancy, cut each square into thirds, so you have six long rectangles. Put the fig filling down the middle of each rectangle in a strip and then fold the sides up over the top, just overlapping in the middle. Cut into squares and you have your fig newtons – place them on a greased cookie sheet. If you want to be lazier, line the bottom of a greased square or rectangular baking dish with some dough, spread some of the fig filling on top, and then top with another layer of the rolled out dough. You can cut them into squares after they are baked. That’s what I did. The original recipe instructions say to bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees; I baked mine in a cob oven, so I can’t comment on baking time and temperature!