Cleaning out my pantry last week, I unearthed a bag of mission figs. Who knows how long they’d been hiding in there but they were plumb and fragrant and just begging to baked up into my version of Fig Newtons or, as my son used to call them “Big Mountains”.
The fig jam is worth making even if only to spread on your morning toast. Naturally sweet, poaching the figs with strips of orange and lemon zest (scrape away any white pith before adding to the pot) and a few thin slices of ginger heightens the earthy, nutty flavor but you should feel free to add more or less of any of those ingredients. Once the figs are tender, rather than strain the liquid, I prefer to reduce the liquid down to a thickened syrup (about 1/4 cup) to concentrate the flavors. Whiz the figs along with the reduced liquid and a little sugar (it doesn’t need much) in the food processor and set aside to cool before proceeding with the recipe.
The cookie dough whizzes up in the food processor (easy) and serves as the top and the bottom crust – two for one is good, especially this time of year. Half of the dough is pressed into the bottom of the pan and the remaining is tossed with a good amount of pecans before scattering over the fig filling in loose crumbles (don’t press down!).
Technically, this is a cookie but, I’ll admit, I often have a square or two for breakfast alongside my morning tea. Just saying. Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season and don’t forget….Everyday is a great day for baking!
Pecan Fig Bars
Makes 16 squares
For the fig jam
3 cups water
6 oz. (170g) dried Mission or Calamyrna figs, trimmed and quartered
2 long strips orange zest
1 long strip lemon zest
2 thinly sliced ginger coins (optional)
1/4 to 1/3 cup (1 3/4 – 2 3/8 oz./50 – 67g) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
For the bars
1 cup (11 oz./312 g) fig jam, cooled (see above)
12 Tbs. (6 oz./170 g) unsalted butter
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups (9 oz./255 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (4 5/8 oz./131 g) firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. table salt
1/2 cup (2 oz./57g) coarsely chopped pecans, lightly toasted (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
Make the jam
- Put the water, figs, orange zest, lemon zest and ginger coins (if using) in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until and the figs are just tender when pieced with the tip of a knife, 15 to 18 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and bring the liquid to a boil. Cook until the liquid is thick and syrupy and measures about 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Slide the pan off the heat, and set aside, stirring occasionally, until no longer hot.
- Scrape the figs into the bowl of a food processor. You can add in the zests and ginger or you can discard. Add the lower amount of sugar and the salt and puree until smooth. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Scrape into a container and cool completely before using. Likewise, the jam can be covered and refrigerated up to 1 week.
Make the bars
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan (I like the straight-sided kind) with foil, leaving about a 1-inch overhang on two opposite sides. Lightly grease the foil.
- Have ready the fig jam. Cut the butter in half lengthwise and then cut each strip into 6 pieces. Pile onto a plate and slide into the freezer until ready to use.
- Put the egg and vanilla in a ramekin or small bowl and use a fork to mix until well blended. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor. Process until blended, about 2 seconds. Scatter the chilled butter pieces over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs and the butter is in very small pieces. Drizzle the egg mixture over the flour mixture, then pulse just until the dough forms moist crumbs and the butter is incorporated, about 20 seconds. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide in half (about 10 7/8 oz./308 g each).
- Scatter half of the dough in the prepared pan and, using lightly floured fingertips if necessary, pat it down into the bottom and corners of the pan to make an even layer. Using a spoon or small offset spatula, spread the strawberry jam evenly over the dough. Add the pecans to the remaining dough and, using your fingers, mix and gently pinch the dough until it forms crumbles (there will be some big crumbles but mostly small). Scatter the crumbles evenly over the jam but don’t press down.
- Bake until the top is golden brown and the fig jam is bubbling around the edges, 40 to 42 minutes. Move the pan to a rack and let cool completely.
- To cut, use the foil edges on the sides of the pan to lift the cookie from the pan. Carefully peel away the foil from the sides and set the cookie on a cutting board. Using a ruler as a guide and a serrated knife, cut crosswise into 4 equal strips and then cut each strip into 4 squares. I use a gentle sawing motion to break through the top crust and then firmly push down on the knife. Dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar just before serving, if desired.The bars can be covered and stowed at room temperature for up to 5 days.