Nabisco’s Fig Newtons were my introduction to figs. They were my favorite sweet treat from the grocery store as a child and I could easily eat half the package in one sitting; the other half wouldn’t last long after. I don’t remember my sisters ever being as fond of them as I was but boy, did I love them. There was something about the dry cookie exterior and modest amount of fig filling inside. I’d like to think that my palate has since graduated to more refined fig tastes but nostalgia strikes once in a while and when it does, I go for the Fig Newmans version and the pleasure I get from nibbling on the tiny bars has not changed.
I’ve searched for a homemade version of Fig Newtons here and there but have never gotten excited by any of the recipes I’ve come across. Enter the fig bars from Fine Cooking. Any dessert in bar form is a winner to me; add figs to the mix and I must try it. Fine Cooking’s version is fancier than this one I’m sharing with you here but I was feeling adventurous so I used their recipe as a foundation for creating this classic fig bar with some personal touches.
We have become big fans of flaxseed around here and being the enthusiastic consumer, I bought huge amounts of whole flaxseed and flaxseed meal at the same time. The flaxseed has been a morning staple and has turned over a few times since but the bag of ground seeds has largely been ignored in the refrigerator so I decided to use them instead of the walnuts in my version. I also had only one pound of ripe figs where the original recipe called for 2 pounds to make the jam for the filling so I supplemented with fig butter. I omitted the thyme.
This made for quite a good, basic fig jam but if you want to try a more gourmet version, I recommend that you visit my friend Lisa at Authentic Suburban Gourmet for her fabulous Fig-Balsamic Jam. I learned to make it last summer in a jam-making get-together with some fun blogger friends. I have one more jar from that session and didn’t want to use it all up just for these bars. Since the fig butter is a bit sweeter, I added only 1/2 cup and it was more than enough here.
The other changes? I used some coconut oil instead of all butter and reduced the sugar in the pastry to overall great results. These bars don’t taste like the Fig Newtons from my childhood but my grown up taste buds are happy just the same.
- ***For the Pastry***
- 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
- 1 1 /2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 4 oz. (8 Tbsp.) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces (or 7 T butter and 2 tsp coconut oil)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ***For the Filling See Note***
- 1 lb. very ripe figs stems removed, unpeeled, coarsely chopped
- 1/8 cup sugar
- Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 to 2 Tbs. lemon juice; more or less to taste
- 1/2 cup fig butter from Trader Joes or you can use fig jam
To make the pastry:
Heat the oven to 350°F. Combine the flaxseed meal with 2 Tbs. of the sugar and set aside. Process the flour, the remaining 1/4 cup white sugar, the brown sugar, salt and baking powder in a food processor until well blended. Add the butter; process until the mixture looks crumbly then add the egg yolk and vanilla and pulse until mixture is wet and clumping, about 40 seconds (it won't form a ball).
Line an 8x8 baking dish with two pieces of parchment paper with a little overhang and pack 2/3 of the pastry mixture on the bottom. This isn't necessary but it makes it a lot easier to pull the baked bars out of the pan. Bake until the dough is lightly browned and keeps a slight indentation when you press it lightly, about 20-25 minutes.
To make the jam: While the crust is baking, cook the figs and sugar over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and the lemon juice, to taste. Stir in the fig butter.
To assemble: Pour the jam onto the partially-baked crust and spread evenly along the top. Stir in the flaxseed-sugar mixture into the remaining 1/3 of the pastry mixture and sprinkle on top of the jam. Return to the oven and bake for another 25-28 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.
1. Adapted from Fine Cooking's Fig Bars with Thyme. 2. Instead of flaxseed meal, you can use walnuts like in the original recipe. Take 1/2 cup of walnuts and process with the 2 tablespoons of sugar until fine. 3. For the jam, I only had one pound of figs so I halved the original jam recipe. Feel free to double the ingredients indicated here and omit the fig butter that I supplemented with. I pound of figs made 1 cup of jam so you might end up with more filling since I only added another 1/2 cup of fig butter. 4. I used 3.5 ounces of butter and 2 teaspoons of coconut oil for the pastry but feel free to use 4 ounces butter as in the original recipe.