Anyone who’s a parent will probably tell you that, despite all of the times and all of the ways that they feel they’re falling a bit shy of the mark, there are at least a few parenting-related things that they feel pretty good about. It’s been true for us. Yes, we cave to demands for extra bedtime snuggles, use disposable diapers and Beany watches more Mickey Mouse Clubhouse than a doctor might recommend, but when it comes to her diet and nutrition, we’ve tried to stay pretty up and up with good-for-you eats and made-from-scratch desserts. Not always, but most of the time. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.
After two years of eating this way, not only does Beany seem to have pretty good taste for a toddler, but she’s also developed a rather discerning palate when it comes to baked goods. This has translated into outright refusal of nearly any prepackaged or non-homemade sweet. We’re talking birthday cake at parties, snacks at the grocery store, even Oreos. She’d happily eat ginger spice cookies, banana muffins or brownies as the day is long, but hand her something that you didn’t bake yourself, and somehow her toddler super senses kick in, and she instinctively turns up her nose. This was true for a long, long time. But then, we went to Grammy’s house.
One day after lunch, Grammy pulled out a “special cookie” from deep inside the pantry. It was a Fig Newton. “I doubt she’ll eat it,” I told my mom when she asked if Beany could have one. “But she can try it. We’ll see what she does.”
Beany looked at the cookie skeptically, took a teeny tiny nibble from the top and then proceeded to eat the entire thing. In three bites! Mouthful of cookie and face covered in crumbs, she smiled the smile of a kid who finally understood the joys of processed sweets. If 2-year-olds have vices, Beany had found hers, wrapped in a square of fig and pastry.
It’s hard to deny your child something that you know brings them so much joy, and I dare say that our girl looked nearly euphoric every time she had a Fig Newton during that three-week vacation. Upon returning home, however, before I let myself succumb to the call of the prepackaged grocery store cookies, I vowed to give the homemade version a try, just to see if I could win back Beany’s sensibilities. If you have a Fig Newton-lover in your house, and you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort that the homemade route demands, this recipe is spot on. Steaming the cookies as soon as they’re done baking gives them that unmistakable Fig Newton texture, and the flavor is just like the original but amplified a bit with extra orange zest and vanilla.
Thankfully, after a sideways glance or two, Beany was willing to try them last night, and though her response wasn’t overwhelmingly this-is-so-amazing the first day, by day two she heartily approved. Of course, I haven’t offered her the packaged vs. homemade challenge, with the two options side by side. Honestly, I’m too scared of the results.
Homemade Fig Newtons
Recipe from petitbleu, Food52.com
For the pastry:
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
• 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 2/3 cups brown sugar
• 1 large egg
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• zest of one orange
For the filling:
• 1 pound dried figs, cut into small pieces
• ½ cup water
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, and set aside. Then beat the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest, and beat until well combined.
Using a spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. (The dough will be super soft.) Spoon the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and refrigerate it overnight.
In the meantime, make the fig filling by combining the figs and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, put on the lid, and allow the water to boil until the figs have absorbed it. (If the figs are still not soft, add a bit more water and allow it to simmer a bit longer.)
Transfer the figs to a food processor, and pulse them until the mixture is completely smooth. Allow the filling to cool.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place a large piece of parchment on your work surface, and flour it liberally. Divide the chilled dough into four pieces. Place one piece of dough on the parchment, and return the others to the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.
Shape the piece of dough into a rectangle by squaring it on the work surface, and then roll the dough, into a long rectangle, about 4 inches wide by 12 inches long. Make sure you keep lifting the dough and flouring the parchment. The super soft dough will stick easily if you don’t keep checking it.
Place the fig filling into a pastry bag or a large Ziploc bag with one corner cut off. Pipe the filling in a 1-inch strip down the center of the dough rectangle. (To help flatten out the filling a bit, dip your fingertips in water and gently press down on the filling.) Fold one side of the dough over the filling, then the other. Press down on the seam to close it. Then flip the cookie roll over, seam-side down. Transfer it carefully to a baking sheet, and refrigerate while you repeat this step with the other three pieces of dough. (Per Jared’s super smart suggestion, I used the metal ruler I already had out to measure my dough rectangle as a base to transfer the cookie rolls. It’s 12 inches long, so it worked like a charm.)
Once all four cookie rolls are assembled and on the parchment-lined baking sheet, bake them for 16 to 22 minutes, or until the dough is no longer tacky and begins to brown around the edges.
While the cookie rolls are still warm, cut them into 2-inch cookies. (If necessary, wipe your knife off every so often between cuts; the figgy mixture is pretty sticky.) Immediately place the cookies in a single layer inside a large Ziploc bag or airtight container with the lid on or bag sealed. It sounds weird, but steaming the cookies is what gives them that soft Fig Newton texture. Cool the cookies completely, and then eat and be merry!
Makes about 30 cookies
Have you ever tried homemade versions of your favorite boxed treats? Cookies? Cakes? How about Pop-Tarts? I’d love to hear about it!