Tag Archives: figs

Newtons Two Ways: Rhubarb Ginger and Fig Lavender

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Rhubarb Filling:

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
Pinch Salt
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).

Fig Filling:

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.

The Assembly:

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.

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Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs

At the beginning of last summer, we decided to abandon our patio as a dining room.  We had the obligatory table and chairs outside and never ever sat there.  Because the patio is right spanking next to our eat-in kitchen, it just always seemed so pointless to lug all of our food outside.  And then the table was always dirty and covered with pollen — and well, I am lazy.

So we sold the table and chair set at our yard sale and bought an outdoor loveseat, two chairs with big ottomans, and a coffee table.  And we threw down an outdoor rug and proceeded to spend the entire summer sitting on our patio.  We would have a glass of wine while the kids played in the yard before dinner.  After putting the two year old to bed, we would sit out there with our daughter and read mystery books.  We had friends over and lots of impromptu, small parties.  On several occasions, my husband and I sat out there after the kids were in bed and fell sound asleep.

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We couldn’t wait to get our furniture back out this spring and start to enjoy it all over again.  And guess what?  We eat out there more now than ever before.  The kids eat their lunch at the coffee table and we have relaxed dinners in our comfy chairs.    It was all a matter of redefining our space and not feeling so bound by the rules.  (“We have patio.  Must buy table and chairs.”)

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So our outdoor dining matches our new space — small plates of easy to eat things that are relaxed and fun.  Grilled pizzas are one of our favorites.  We usually do two pizzas — the first one with sauce and cheese (or tomatoes and basil once summer is in full swing) to please the kids and the second one with ingredients more suited for grown-ups.  We cook on charcoal and have found that the best way to grill the pizzas is over indirect heat, with a brief stint over the coals if you want to crisp it up even more.  If you have all of your ingredients ready to go, just bring them out on a tray and make the pizzas in stages.  It’s great small party food.  Let the kids run wild and eat as you go.

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Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs

Serves 6 (makes 2 large pizzas)

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 lbs.

I like to make my own using the dough cycle of my breadmaker, but feel free to buy a ball of dough from your grocery store or local pizza shop.  Here’s my recipe for the breadmaker (use your dough setting — which is one hour and thirty minutes on my machine).  Just dump the following in and get the rest of your stuff ready while you wait.  (BTW, this makes enough for two pizzas.)

2 cups of white whole wheat flour
2 cups of all purpose white flour
3/4 t. sea salt
2 t. active dry yeast (about one package)
1 3/8 cup water (room temperature or slightly warm)
3 T. olive oil

If you want to make the dough ahead of time, just put a bit of olive oil on it and cover it tightly in a bowl in the fridge.

Topping Prep

This makes enough to top one large pizza.  If you want to do both of your crusts with these ingredients (i.e. you don’t have picky kids who only want sauce and cheese), just double the following ingredients.

1/2 onion, sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil (plus additional for sauteeing)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1 small bunch of Asparagus, trimmed and chopped into one inch pieces
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, freshly grated (or other cheeses — Fontina and Camembert are great too.)
6 dried figs (or fresh if you have them), stemmed and chopped
Brandy, optional
Salt and Pepper
Fresh herbs, optional (basil, chives, etc.)

1.  Caramelize onion.  Here’s my quick method… Saute the onion over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until starting to brown.  Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water and scrape up any brown bits.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 additional minutes uncovered until nicely caramelized and soft.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

2.  Saute asparagus in a bit of olive oil until just slightly softened (they should still be a bit crunchy).  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Warm a bit of brandy in the microwave or on the stove (on a low power level) with the chopped dried figs.  Let them sit in the warm brandy for 10-15 minutes until softened.  Give them a quick rinse to remove the heavy alcohol flavor, pat dry, and set aside.

4.  Make your seasoning oil by warming the 1/3 cup of olive oil over low heat until just warmed.  Add chopped garlic, red pepper flakes to taste, and salt and pepper.  Set aside.

The Pizza Grilling

1.  Preheat your charcoal (indirect method — which means coals should be on the perimeter, not in the center) or gas grill to about 350 F.

2.  Roll out half of your pizza dough (about a 1 pound dough ball) until it is very thin.  I like to do this on  a parchment lined jelly roll pan with a small wooden rolling pin (a clean bottle works too).  It should roll out to about 10″x12″.  (Rectangular shapes are easier for the grill.)

3.  Brush a bit of olive oil on the crust.  Put the oiled side down on the grill.  Don’t worry about getting the dough on the grill — just lift it off the sheet pan and drape it down onto the grilling grate.  It is pretty resilient.

4.  Let cook 3-5 minutes until starting to crisp and brown slightly on the underside.  Using tongs or a spatula, flip the pizza crust over.

5.  Drizzle several tablespoons of the garlic/red pepper seasoning oil onto the crust.

6.  Scatter the caramelized onion, sauteed asparagus, and chopped figs over the pizza crust.  Cover with shredded cheese.  Drizzle with additional seasoning oil if desired.  Close or cover grill to help the cheese melt.  Cook 2-3 more minutes, making sure underside does not get too brown.  If you want it extra crispy, move the pizza over the coals for a minute or so.

7.  When cheese is melted, use a big spatula to help you guide the pizza onto a tray.  Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh chopped herbs if you like.

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