I should be doing my taxes this afternoon, but I don't want to. So, to delay the pain as long as possible and still feel productive, I decided that making Fig Newtons was the only thing to do. Now, this recipe is not one you can throw together quickly, so don't plan on starting it if you're rushed or cranky. And, yes, there are a fair number of steps, but like any labor of love, the heavenly end product more than justifies the means.
Full credit for this recipe goes to flour, Joanne Chang's most excellent baking book. For those of you kind enough to follow my cooking forays, you already know that flour is my favorite pastry/baked goods cookbook of all time. For first time visitors, if you do nothing else this week, treat yourself to the book. I don't change the recipes because I could NEVER improve on anything Chang does. Is it possible to have a baking crush? The only thing I did change, because I had to, was to substitute dry figs, as I couldn't find fresh figs in this season of New England ice and snow.**read notes below about this substitution.
Homemade Fig Newtons (Only slightly adapted from flour, by Joanne Chang)
Fig Jam Filling
2 pints ripe black mission figs
or dried Calimyrna figs if fresh figs are not available**
1 orange, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. confectioner's sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
To make the filling: Remove any stems on figs, then cut them into quarters, and place in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Add the orange, brown sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce teh heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes, or until the figs have softened and lost their shape and the filling jam-like. **If you are using dried figs, add a little water as they simmer to keep the mixture from drying out. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool for 1-2 hour, or to room temperature (if the jam is too watery, drain a little excess liquid before using as filling). *** If you used dried figs, place the finished cooked figs in a food processor and pulse 5 or 6 times until figs achieve a jam-like consistency. This can be made in advance up to three 3 days ahead.
To make the shortbread dough: Using a stand mixer fitted with a the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners' sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle to make sure the egg is thoroughly incorporated.
In a small bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix for about 15 seconds, or until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl again to make sure all of the flour is thoroughly incorporated.
Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap entirely, pressing down to form a disk about 6-inches in diameter and 1-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, or until it has firmed up but is still somewhat pliable.
Position a rack in the center of the oven, heat to 350F.
Place the dough disk on a large sheet of parchment paper. Liberally flour the dough on all surfaces, then roll out into a rectangle about 16 x 9 inches and 1/4 inch thick. Don't let the dough stick to the parchment or the rolling pin by adding a little flour as you gently roll the dough out.
Position the rectangle with a long side facing you. Spoon the cooled filling lengthwise along the center of the rectangle. In a strip of about 2 1/2 inches wide. Lifting the edge of the parchment farthest from you, drape the top of the dough rectangle over the jam, covering the top half of it. Gently peel the parchment away from the dough. Repeat wit the bottom edge of the parchment, draping the bottom of the dough over the jam. The edges of the dough rectangle should meet in the middle. Gently pinch the edges of the dough together, and then turn the rectangle over, so it is facing seam-side-down. Using a pastry brush or your hands to brush any excess flour off the parchment.
Bake for 65-70 minutes, or until the short bread is entirely golden brown. A little fig juice make leak out the sides, but it's fine. Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 2 hours, or until completely cool. Using a chef's knife, cut on the diagonal into strips about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide.