Are there any foods you associate more with their texture than their taste? For me, anything gelatinous, chicken feet dim sum, crème brûlée and Fig Newtons come to mind. I haven’t had a Nabisco Fig Newton in a long time, but I distinctly remember my favorite way to eat them growing up: pressing an entire cookie to the roof of my mouth with my tongue and letting it dissolve into sugary nothingness. I always thought that the cookies, what with ‘fig’ in their name and all, were a more nutritionally virtuous choice than, say, Oreos.
At a recent meeting, our company’s Registered Dietitian used a nutritional index to show us how common foods – both processed and whole – measured up. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when Fig Newtons received practically the same nutritional score as that classic harbinger of highly-processed and additive-laden chocolate and ‘creme’, Oreos! As figs are naturally high in sugar, the addition of high-fructose corn syrup doesn’t help Newtons’ lackluster nutritional profile. Plus, bleached all-purpose flour is generally a nutritional no-no. Add to these dings an overly-long list of mysterious ingredients, and you might as well just have an Oreo. Buy maybe not a Double Stuf.
Naturally, all this talk about Fig Newtons made me want to eat one. While I sometimes indulge in Downtown Bakery’s oversized Fig Newtons at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, I realistically wasn't going to wait until Saturday and had heard through the office grapevine that our resident pastry expert was a Newton aficionado. A few conversations and days later, I set to work on my own version. These Newtons are more involved than your standard one-bowl drop cookies, but their flavor and texture are infinitely more complex. Also, as you can tell from the photo they’re substantially thicker than Nabisco’s Newtons. It’s a feat of trans fats and modern machinery that Nabisco manages to flatten the dough so thin without breaking. When homemade, the Newtons are inherently more rustic, charming and delicious. Just don’t try to flatten an entire one against the roof of your mouth!
Adapted from Baking with Jim Dodge
¼ lb dried strawberries, halved
¼ lb dried Black Mission figs, stemmed and quartered
2 tbsp boiling water
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ cup honey
Zest of ½ lemon
Zest of ½ orange
In a small bowl, pour boiling water over dried strawberries and figs and allow to soak overnight or for at least 4 hours.
Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse to combine. Scrape sides of bowl and continue to process until mixture is smooth and paste-like.
Cover and set aside until needed. You can make the filling ahead of time and refrigerate for up to a few days.
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
¼ cup evaporated cane juice
2½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ½”-cubes
2 large eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup whole milk
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the ‘S’ blade, pulse both flours, evaporated cane juice, baking powder and salt to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
In a small bowl, beat eggs until smooth, and then mix in vanilla and milk.
With the motor running, add egg-milk mixture to flour mixture and pulse just until dough comes together.
Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a round disc and cover in plastic wrap. Chill for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. On a lightly-floured surface, roll dough out to just under ¼”-thick. I am incapable of eyeballing the measurement, so I slap these handy rings onto my rolling pin. I highly recommend them!
Cut dough into long, 4”-wide strips. Form a long cylinder of chilled filling about 1” in diameter (like an elongated Tootsie Roll), and place along the inside long edge of one of the strips of dough.
Roll dough around filling, pressing open edges of dough into the filling to seal. Ensure that cookie roll is seam-side down, and gently roll the pin over the top to flatten the cookies.
Cut the roll crosswise into 1”-wide slices, and repeat until all dough and filling are used.
Transfer cookies, seam-side down, to a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until lightly browned (15-25 minutes). Cool on wire racks.