I am not a fussy cook. I have great respect for those who are, but I just seem to lack the patience and precision to do fine, detailed work. So, pastry chefs have my ultimate admiration. If I make cookies, they are usually drop-style rather than rolled and cut out. Any cake I make usually tastes great, but looks a little suspect. (Especially if you were able to see it before I serve it. I generally fly by the seat of my pants and figure out a way to make it look decent with a pastry tip and some shaved chocolate. Garnishes are my friend.) And my favorite desserts to make are crisps, cobblers, and anything “rustic.” Rustic is my friend too.
So, these cookies are definitely more fussy than I would like. But I have wanted to make homemade fig newtons for some time. Not sure why, but I am thinking it involved a dream with a fig tree and someone I went to high school with. I’ll spare you the details, because we all know that there is nothing more boring than listening to someone describe their dreams.
I decided the time was right the other day when the grocery store had fresh figs (unfortunately, we can’t go local with figs). My mind started to wander though … I definitely wanted to make a whole grain version, I wanted to use honey (and not too much), I wanted to dress the fillings up a little bit, and I wanted to make them seem summery. So, I settled on two fillings: one with figs and fresh lavender and one with rhubarb and ginger. It ended up that I liked the rhubarb filling better than the figs. And in my last batch, I actually combined the fig filling and the rhubarb filling to create “Rhubarb Fig Newtons” and that was great. The tang of the rhubarb really balances the sweetness of the figs.
Getting back to the fussiness factor… I made these on a very hot and humid day which made the job a lot harder. The cookie dough must be thoroughly chilled to keep it firm, but just slightly softened to wrap around the fillings. I’d suggest making them on a cooler day or turning the AC on. Every time I’d take the dough out of the fridge it would warm so quickly that I couldn’t work with it. Regardless of the weather, I think this is an easier job if you divide the work over two days — make the fillings and the dough the first day so they are nice and chilled, and then roll them out and bake them the next. And I wouldn’t bake them way ahead of time because they seem to dry out easily.
Because I am lazy, the next time I make these I am going to try them as a simple bar cookie — just roll out the dough, divide into two equal pieces and make a sandwich with the filling. Then all you’d have to do is bake them and cut into bars. If anyone tries going that route, please leave a comment with your experience. And I also got thinking as I made these that a savory newton would make a great appetizer. How about fig and goat cheese, or apple with a bit of camembert? I am definitely going to figure that recipe out — because that is a cookie you could have with wine.
Rhubarb Ginger And Fig Lavender Newtons
Makes about 2-3 dozen, depending on how big you cut them
2 1/2 cups of chopped rhubarb (about 3 long stalks)
Zest of one lemon
3/4 t fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup honey
2 t cornstarch mixed with 1 t water
1/2 t vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients, except vanilla extract, in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until completely smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Let cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor (or with an immersion blender). Chill for at least an hour or two (or overnight).
2 1/2 cups of fresh figs, stemmed and chopped
2 t fresh lavender, chopped and divided into two equal piles
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of orange juice
Pinch of salt
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla extract
Combine figs, one teaspoon of lavender (reserve other one), honey, orange juice, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, vanilla extract, and remaining teaspoon of lavender. Let cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor (or with an immersion blender). Chill for at least an hour or two (or overnight).
The Cookie Dough:
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup of honey
Zest of one lemon
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
Cream butter with electric mixer until it is light and fluffy. Add honey and lemon zest and continue to mix for 2-3 minutes. Add eggs, one a time and mix well to incorporate. (I find that when baking with smaller amounts of honey, sometimes the eggs won’t emulsify with the butter – but just keeping mixing for a few minutes and it comes back together. It helps if the eggs are at room temperature.) Add salt and vanilla extract and mix. Slowly add in the flour in three additions and mix until just coming together. Finish mixing with a wooden spoon or spatula. Place dough on one sheet of plastic wrap and cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap. Pat the dough into a rectangular shape and wrap tightly with the plastic. Chill for several hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a cool place, roll out the cookie dough between the two sheets of plastic wrap until it is about 1/4 inch thick and the rectangle is about 13 inches by 15 inches. Cut into four equal strips. Slide onto a baking tray (with the plastic still on) and put in freezer for 5-10 minutes so it can firm back up.
Spoon a thin line of the filling down the center of each dough strip. (If you have too much filling on it, it will ooze out like crazy — no big deal, just take some out.) Fold one side of the dough strip to the center, slightly covering filling. Fold other side of the dough strip on top of that and gently pinch the dough together to seal it up. (You will have one big “log”). Repeat with remaining dough strips and filling. Put all the logs in the freezer for another 5-10 minutes to firm up again.
Place the logs seam side down onto a parchment lined baking sheet and slice into individual cookies (about 1 inch each and don’t forget to remove the plastic wrap if it is still on!). Space the cookies evenly for baking. Bake for 15 minutes and if you have multiple trays in at once, rotate them half way through. Remove from sheets and cool on racks.