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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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Rubber Bands to the Rescue

"Rubber Band Ball"

I am married to a man who does not know his own strength. He knows he is stronger them most mortals so he makes a concerted effort to be gentle. His handshakes are firm, but not bone crushing. His hugs envelope you rather than squeeze the air out of you. Where he sometimes forgets to be gentle is in the pantry. When it comes time to screw a jar lid back on he makes sure it is completely screwed on. With his bare hands he can screw a lid on as tight as it was when it was first sealed. I can always tell if Shawn was the last one to use the jam or pickles because I cannot get the jar open without help. Often he is around and will sheepishly undo the lid for me. Other times I am on my own.

"opening a jar with a rubber band"

My Mom is a huge fan of the Gilhoolie Jar Opener. Grammy Caldwell always had one in the enameled top kitchen table, but somehow I never owned that particular jar opening device.  What I have instead in my kitchen drawer is a rubber band ball. Made up of hundreds of rubber bands which previously held together stems of broccoli,  bunches of scallions or heads of napa  cabbage, the ball serves many purposes. I de-stress with it by bouncing it around my kitchen (staying clear of the glassware and the dog). Sometimes my son and I play catch with it. And if Shawn isn’t around to open a too tight jar lid I simply peel off a thick rubber band, slip it around the locked lid, and twist. If a jar is particularly stubborn I’ll give it one good smack on my kitchen counter, which provides that extra bit of incentive to open, but usually the gripping power of the rubber band gives me the twist I need.


Filed under Favorite Tools