Monday, January 5, 2009
Sicilian Fig Bars
I find it kind of funny that just a few weeks after writing about how little figs do for me I have featured them in a recipe yet again. Of course in that earlier post I also wrote that fig newtons are an exception to that rule, so an opportunity to make them at home seemed too good to pass up. Combine that with the fact that the recipe is in one of my new cookbooks -- Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker which I got for Christmas, and the fact that the recipe claims to be a traditional Sicilian recipe and it was pretty much a given that it would be near the top of my list to try from this book.
I don't know much about my heritage -- English/German/Irish seem to be pretty safe bets and I've never really cared enough to learn more. Chris, on the other hand, has at least some idea of his heritage because his paternal grandmother is 100% Sicilian, and he is always interested in Sicilian food, particularly the cookies and sweets and treats she makes from time to time. As far as I know she never made the Sicilian versions of fig newtons, but the idea of a traditional Sicilian recipe made with one of his favorite ingredients, put this recipe at the top of Chris' list of requests.
Despite the fact that these cookies look like they should be complicated, they are actually pretty easy to make. The dough is a cookie dough called Biscotti Regina which is quickly mixed up in the food processor and very easy to work with. For the fig filling the only time consuming part is snipping the hard stems off of the figs and cutting them into pieces. After that you dump the rest of the ingredients into a pot and simmer it until it thickens up, then let it cool. Assembling the cookies bars took a little time, but the dough was easy to work with and it didn't take much effort, just a little time, to roll the dough out to the appropriate diminsions and wrap it around the fig filling.
If you like fig newtons -- these are a sure fire winner. Very yummy with a much more complex flavor than store-bought newtons which seem pretty boring in comparison.
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
3 large eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract
Combine the flour, sugar, baking poweder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulese several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse repeatedly until the butter is finely mixed in, but the mixture is still cool and powdery. Add teh eggs and vanilla and pulse repeatedly until the dough forms a ball. You can put the dough in the fridge at this point if you want to split the work over a couple of days. Otherwise, wrap it up in plastic wrap and wash the food processor because you will need it for the fig filling.
1 1/2 pounds (700 grams) dried Calimyrna figs
1 cup water
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup dark rum
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 batch of biscotti regina dough
To make the filling, use kitchen shears to snip the hard stems from the figs, then snip each fig into 5 or 6 pieces. In a large saucepan, combine the figs, water, apricot preserves, rum, cinnamon and cloves. Stir to mix well.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirrin often. Reduce the heat to low and let the filling simmer until it is thickened, but not extremely thick. Cool the filling and puree it in the food processor with metal blade.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 and line cookie sheets with parchment or silpats.
Divide the biscotti regina dough into 6 pieces and roll each into a rope about 12 inches long. Place 1 rope on a floured work surface and press and roll it to make a rectangle of dough about 4 inches wide and 12 inches long. Spoon about 1/6 of the filling down the center of the dough. Use a pastry brush or your finger to paint the exposed dough with water, then lift the dough all around to enclose the filling within the tube of dough. Pinch the seam closed. Turn the filled piece of dough seam side down and flatten it slightly. Place the dough on the prepared cookie sheets and repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
Bake the cookies until the dough is set and golden, 15-20 minutes, rotating the cookie pans halfway through to ensure even baking. Let the cookies cool on the pan. When they are cool, trim the edges of the dough and cut the log into fig-newton shaped cookies.