Friday, October 15, 2010

Italian Fig Cookies

Last year, our first year in our house, I was pregnant and did not have the ambition to plant a garden.  But I am now planning what we will be planting in the spring, including some fruit trees.  One of the trees I noticed that we could plant is a dwarf fig tree.  When I mentioned it to Hey, Babe, his asked, "Do we even like fresh figs? Have we ever actually tried them?"  And I admitted we haven't.  So, he picked some up at the farmers market the following week.  I didn't really care for them eaten out of hand.  Perhaps they weren't quite ripe enough, or perhaps they were a bit too ripe, I really haven't the faintest idea.  But now, with almost a pound of fresh figs to use, I needed a recipe.  And that is where these come in.  They seemed like the perfect cookie to audition for a place on the Christmas Cookie platter.

This recipe comes from Gourmet December 2002.  All of the reviews said it smelled and tasted like Christmas, and from my understanding it is a traditional Italian Christmas cookie.  It originally called for dried figs, but I used my pound of fresh figs.  I pureed all the filling ingredients except the nuts together and let it simmer on the stove until it was thick and jammy.  Then I put it into the fridge to chill and got sidetracked by the kids.  It wasn't until several days later that I was able to make the dough.


By the time the dough had chilled and it was time to assemble I totally forgot about the nuts called for and the chocolate other reviewers had recommended.  It is a shame that I did because these cookies weren't quite what I was expecting.  I had hoped to be making a Christmasy Fig Newton, but what I got was a spice cookie that had enough strength to completely overwhelm the Figs, but then not enough strength left afterward to stand on their own.  Perhaps it was because I forgot the nuts and chocolate or because I used fresh figs instead of dried, whatever the reason is I will not make these the same way next time.  I am thinking that next time I will either leave out the orange zest and most if not all the spices and attempt to get more of a plain Fig Newton.  Either that or I will skip out on the Figs altogether and instead go with a Raspberry and Chocolate filling.  The crust was fine the way it was.  Overall these weren't bad, but they weren't shining stars either.

[edited to add:  okay, that was my impression the night they were cooked.  They were still very warm and I guess the flavors had not finished melding because I just tasted one this morning and it tastes totally different.  Soo much better!  I like a cookie that you can make ahead and it gets better instead of just stale.  I will still experiment with the fillings, but that is just because I can't leave well enough alone. ]

[an update here.]

Italian Fig Cookies
For filling:
1 cup packed soft dried Mission figs (8 oz), hard tips discarded
3/4 cup raisins (3 3/4 oz)
3/4 cup mild honey
1/4 cup brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup whole almonds (4 oz), toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup walnuts (3 oz), toasted and coarsely chopped
For pastry dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange or lemon zest 

Make filling:
Pulse figs and raisins in a food processor until finely chopped, then stir together with remaining filling ingredients in a bowl. Chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Make dough:
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and blend with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Add eggs, milk, vanilla, and zest and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms. Halve dough and gather each half into a ball, then flatten each half into a rough 6- by 4-inch rectangle between sheets of plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 8 hours. (I spread all the dough as flat as I could in a jelly roll pan between two sheets of parchment paper.)

Form cookies:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll out 1/2 of the dough (keep remaining dough chilled) into a 13- by 10-inch rectangle between two sheets of parchment paper.  If the dough becomes too warm or soft to work with, return it to the fridge and start on the other half.   Cut into 2 (10- by 6 1/2-inch) strips. Arrange 1/4 of the filling in a log lengthwise down half of each strip, then fold the other half of each strip up over filling to enclose it, pinching edges together to seal.  Put the filled logs into the fridge for 15-20 minutes to reset while you work on the other half of dough.  This will make it easier to remove the parchment paper.  Repeat with the other half of dough. 

Remove the first log from the fridge and carefully loosen it from the parchment paper.  If it is sticking and tearing return it to the fridge to chill some more.  After the log has been completely loosened from the parchment paper, cut it crosswise with a floured knife into 1 1/2-inch-wide slices and arrange 1/2 inch apart on a large baking sheets. Make more cookies in same manner with remaining chilled logs.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until golden around edges, 16 to 20 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool until warm, about 10 minutes.

 Check out what some other people are baking up!

Week 3 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:


  1. I laughed as I read your update. Don't you just love it when cookies surprise you like that? I've made a few recipes where that was exactly the case and was glad I waited before throwing them out. Lucky you to have your own supply of figs. I loved Fig Newtons when I was a kid so I'll have to try your recipe now that I know it's a good one after all.

  2. I love these cookies. I made them quite a few years ago for Christmas and like you, I liked them better a day or two later. This might even be the same recipe I used as I got it off of Epicurious. The only difference is my recipe called for a glaze to be put on top. These are great though, my husband keeps asking me to make them again.

  3. I can imagine that these cookies were so much more amazing with fresh figs from your very own tree! I bet your other variations will be wonderful!

  4. Brenda, it probably is the same recipe. It called for a glaze but 99% of the time I don't put glazes on things as in my opinion it just makes them to sweet (and harder to clean off my Little Man). I'm so glad I tried them again :-)

  5. I need a dwarf fig tree! And I need some of these cookies. I bet the chocolate would step them up a notch! Yum!

  6. These bring back many childhood memories for me! Great cookies!

  7. You can send all of those cookies to me - because I make something similar every year AND eat them all. I think that figs are an acquired taste, you know?

  8. I have to try these next time I'm home!! My family LOVES fig cookies. Making a healthy and custome version would be so much fun :)

  9. I have an Italian Fig cookie recipe saved that lately I keep flipping to and daydreaming about how good they must be..I've never had them... Yours look amazing!

  10. oh wow! I am dying to eat one of these right now!

  11. I have had the same experience with baking - taking time and effort to make something and then it doesn't reach expectations. I glad it improved the next day. 1 tablespoon of cinnamon is a lot! BTW fresh figs need to be really ripe. They are delicous drizzled with honey and grilled(broiled) until bubbling or caramelised with butter and sugar. Don't give up on them just yet!

  12. My Mom makes something similar to this and they are pure heaven!!! They look amazingly yummy!

  13. I like dried figs, and these cookies look delish! I don't think I have ever had a fresh fig...hmmm...I don't think I have ever seen them around here. lol

  14. Mmm, I love fig cookies but have had the same experience as you. They're often better on day 2. The cookies sure are pretty!


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