Tag Archives: cookies

Shaping by Hand

Of all the cookie recipes I’ve baked one of my favorites is Homemade Fig Newtons. Perhaps it is the gooey fig center of dried figs moistened with fresh orange juice. Or maybe I can’t resist the little pastry wings that bake onto the edges of these homemade Fig Newtons. It could be the satisfaction of making something you typically buy, but which has the bonus of tasting even better than the store-bought version. Or simply the alchemy of nostalgia mixed with butter, sugar and figs.  However you slice it up, this recipe should definitely be in your recipe box, filed under Yummy.

Homemade Fig Newtons

Since I tend to make these cookies pretty often there are many opportunities to reflect on this recipe. One time,  just as I was about to put the pureed fig filling into the pastry bag, I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this?” Don’t get me wrong I am a huge fan of pastry bags, but did this particular filling really need to be piped? The answer is no. I got out the best kitchen tools I have – my hands – and ran them under cold water so they were damp, then gently molded the fig filling into a log. It took less than two minutes. With the dough rolled out on the parchment paper I was able to fill and fold each fig newton log in seconds flat. The added bonus was there was no remaining fig paste stuck inside the pastry bag.

Moist fig paste for homemade fig newtons

Another change I made was to roll out enough dough for one log on a sheet of parchment. Doing it this way allowed me to use the parchment to fold the dough around the fig paste. I could probably have made a slightly narrower sheet of dough, but you should get the idea from the gif below.

Lastly I am going to admit to a rather serious character flaw – I seem to only be able to cook for a multitude. This flaw is actually a great one to have if you happen to have a couple of twenty-somethings living under your roof (which I do). Or are going to a party. Or need to gain twenty pounds (which no one I know does). But I will admit my friends and family are right, I make waaaaay too much food most of the time. So in an attempt to modify this excessive culinary behavior here is a smaller version of my Homemade Fig Newton recipe. You won’t have a mountain of Fig Newtons, you’ll have plenty. My recommendation is to have lots of cold milk on hand.

Homemade Fig Newtons


1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling out

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4  teaspoon salt

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1  1/4 sticks)

2/3 cups packed brown sugar

1 egg

2+ teaspoons vanilla

Zest of one large oranges


1 pounds dried figs (black or white or a combination)

1/2 cup fresh orange juice, extra water if figs are dry

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until combined. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. Scoop the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a log, and refrigerate for at least 2-24 hours. Longer is better since this is a very soft dough.

Combine the figs and juice in a medium saucepan. If you don’t have quite enough juice for the full cup you can top it off with a bit of water. Bring the juice to a boil, cover, and turn to temperature to very low, simmering for about 8-12 minutes. When the liquid has almost completely evaporated turn off the heat and allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes. Transfer the figs and any remaining juice to a food processor and pulse until the mixture is completely smooth. If things are too dry add a smidge of water. You want paste, not soup and not cement.

The filling mixture has to cool completely before you put it in the dough or it will soften the dough too much before baking. Scrape the fig paste in a glass bowl, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Move oven racks so they divide space into thirds. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Place 1/2 of the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper which has been sprinkled liberally with flour. Sprinkle more flour on top and roll into a long skinny rectangle, about 7” x 18”. You’ll want to move the dough every so often and perhaps re-flour to keep it from sticking to the parchment.

Form 1/2 of fig paste filling into a log and place near the middle of the dough rectangle. Wrap the dough gently over the filling by moving it with the parchment paper up and over the filling, one side at a time. Flip the Fig Newton roll over so the seam side is touching the parchment. Since this amount is slightly longer than in the original recipe you may need to either place the log on the diagonal or cut it in half, leaving a decent amount of space between each half on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and fig paste. If the weather is hot you can slide the baking sheet and unbaked logs into the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Cook both logs at the same time, rotating shelves (top to bottom) and giving each sheet a 180º spin midway through. Bake 18-22 minutes on each rotation (40+ minutes total) or until cookies are just browning along the edges. Don’t forget to flip and spin the cookie sheets half way through the baking process.

After letting the fig logs cool slightly (4-10 minutes) gently slice them into cookies with a serrated knife using a sawing motion. You may need to clean the blade of fig filling every so often. Let cool, then store in an air tight dry container. Makes 30-40 depending on how wide you cut them.

Common fig from the New York Public Library

Slices of homemade fig newtons

Russell helped me gif-ify the process on gfycat – thanks Russ!

Drawing of Fico rubado (common fig) courtesy of the New York Public Library digital collection.

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A Childhood without Madeleines

I cannot claim to have had a Proustian moment with a Madeleine and cup of tea in my youth since the sad truth is I grew up in a Madeleine-less world. Somehow I managed to make it to adulthood on a diet which included snickerdoodles, sticky buns, and sour cream coffee cake but nary a nibble of the sweet cakes Proust remembered. Which goes a long way to explaining why I have become obsessed with rectifying this deficiency. Madeleines are divine and no childhood should be without a few dozen or more (over the years, not all at once). My friend Alexis, who lives in Paris, sent Shawn and I madeleine pans from France as a wedding present. Over the years I have acquired madeleine pans of all shapes and sizes am continually on the lookout for more (though I eschew the non-stick pans which the butter renders unnecessary). Next to the Best Chocolate Cake Cupcakes I find madeleines a quick, satisfying treat on the non-chocolate side of baking.

"madeleine pans"

Madeleine pans of all shapes and sizes

One of the advantages of learning to make madeleines in adulthood is that I got to teach my sister Heather how to make them. It seems my teaching skills are somewhat limited since I received the following phone call shortly after giving her the recipe:

Cindy you aren’t going to believe what happened to my madeleines. I used the recipe you sent me but they came out the size of baseballs and they’re hairy!”

It was very lucky I wasn’t eating a madeleine at that moment because I might have choked to death laughing. Yes I know I’m a rotten person to laugh at someone else’s cooking mistakes but hairy, baseball sized madeleines? You would have laughed too–admit it. The thought of these ginormous cakes in need of a haircut was amusing to say the least. Turns out she’d used an inexpensive pastry brush to butter the pans with and bristles had come out and stuck to the pan. Add to that the fact that Heather owns only one 12-madeleine pan which she used for all the batter rather than splitting it into two batches (the recipe makes 24). My advice was pragmatic – I suggested she get out her tweezers to remove the offending bristles and eat the oversized madeleines as long as they were cooked all the way through. No reason to waste a perfectly good madeleine just because it is deformed. I am happy to report that Heather now makes divine madeleines with nary a bristle in the batch.

"tea and madeleines"

Tea and madeleines

Years of madeleine taste testing has led me to a tweaked version of  Julia Child’s recipe from her book  Way to Cook. With recipes whose primary taste is butter my first bit of advice is buy the best butter you can afford. I always use unsalted butters though with the rise in the price of butter the brand varies depending what was on sale and how flush my pocket-book is that week. Land O’Lakes, Kerrygold, Vermont Creamery,  and Plugrá are all excellent choices. I also love the taste of lemon so my version has much more lemon peel and juice in it than in Julia’s version.

Lemony Madeleines

2 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces), plus 1 Tablespoon more for greasing the pans

zest of 2 medium lemons, finely grated

juice of 1-2 lemons

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup flour, plus 1 Tablespoon more for greasing the pans

pinch salt

powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375º F. Melt stick butter and let cool slightly. Mix eggs and sugar together until well blended. Add the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla. Mix in the cup of flour and salt then start beating in the melted butter. It will take a few minutes for that much butter to incorporate into the batter. Do not despair just keep folding. The batter will become smooth and glossy once you’ve fully incorporated it. Let the batter rest while you pop the remaining Tablespoon of butter into the butter melting pan along with the extra Tablespoon of flour and  whisk them around the pan with a pastry brush (not the cheap kind that drops its bristles) until the butter is melted. Then paint two 12 madeleine pans with the butter-flour slurry and spoon the batter evenly into the 24 spaces. Bake 15 minutes or until the edges are browned and the centers of each madeleine have domed in the middle.

"madeleine batter ready to bake"

Batter ready to bake

When they come out of the oven give each pan a good whack on the counter or cutting board which should loosen the little cakes from their pans. Turn out onto wire racks and cool. When cool dust lightly with powdered sugar (if desired) and serve with tea or a cold glass of milk or a glass of champagne.

"baked madeleines"

Just baked madeleines

Proust may have been wrong about the memory of how they crumbled in a cup of tea, but he wasn’t wrong to remember how fantastic these scalloped shaped little cakes are. In my opinion they don’t deserve to be dropped in a cup of tea, but rather nibbled out of hand while sipping your beverage of choice.

"madeleines and strawberries"

Powdered and ready to eat with strawberries for Charline's birthday

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Arlene Sullivan’s Molasses Snaps

If all the world’s cash were to evaporate tomorrow so that everyone had to reverted to a barter system I would be fine, just fine because I have a recipe that is the equivalent of gold –  Continue reading

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