I am not a fussy cook. Â I have great respect for those who are, but I just seem to lack the patience and precision to do fine, detailed work. Â So, pastry chefs have my ultimate admiration. Â If I make cookies, they are usually drop-style rather than rolled and cut out. Â Any cake I make usually tastes great, but looks a little suspect. Â (Especially if you were able to see it before I serve it. Â 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. Â Garnishes are my friend.) Â And my favorite desserts to make are crisps, cobblers, and anything “rustic.” Â Rustic is my friend too.
So, these cookies are definitely more fussy than I would like. Â But I have wanted to make homemade fig newtons for some time. Â Not sure why, but I am thinking it involved a dream with a fig tree and someone I went to high school with. Â 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). Â 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. Â So, I settled on two fillings: Â one with figs and fresh lavender and one with rhubarb and ginger. Â It ended up that I liked the rhubarb filling better than the figs. Â And in my last batch, I actually combined the fig filling and the rhubarb filling to create “Rhubarb Fig Newtons” and that was great. Â 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. Â The cookie dough must be thoroughly chilled to keep it firm, but just slightly softened to wrap around the fillings. Â I’d suggest making them on a cooler day or turning the AC on. Â Every time I’d take the dough out of the fridge it would warm so quickly that I couldn’t work with it. Â 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. Â 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. Â Then all you’d have to do is bake them and cut into bars. Â If anyone tries going that route, please leave a comment with your experience. Â And I also got thinking as I made these that a savory newton would make a great appetizer. Â How about fig and goat cheese, or apple with a bit of camembert? Â 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. Â Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until completely smooth and thickened. Â Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Â Let cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor (or with an immersion blender). Â 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. Â Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until smooth and thickened. Â Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, vanilla extract, and remaining teaspoon of lavender. Â Let cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor (or with an immersion blender). Â 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. Â Add honey and lemon zest and Â continue to mix for 2-3 minutes. Â Add eggs, one a time and mix well to incorporate. Â (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. Â It helps if the eggs are at room temperature.) Â Add salt and vanilla extract and mix. Â Slowly add in the flour in three additions and mix until just coming together. Â Finish mixing with a wooden spoon or spatula. Â Place dough on one sheet of plastic wrap and cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap. Â Pat the dough into a rectangular shape and wrap tightly with the plastic. Â Chill for several hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Â 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. Â Cut into four equal strips. Â 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. Â (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. Â Fold other side of the dough strip on top of that and gently pinch the dough together to seal it up. Â (You will have one big “log”). Â Repeat with remaining dough strips and filling. Â 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!). Â Space the cookies evenly for baking. Â Bake for 15 minutes and if you have multiple trays in at once, rotate them half way through. Â Remove from sheets and cool on racks.