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Fig Keplers

Guilty pleasures are things you grow into. As kids, most of us had no conception of "fear foods" or "sinful indulgences." We were more interested in the next time Mom would let us have ice cream or how many sour candies we could fit in our mouths.

But one of the more unfortunate aspects of aging is all the baggage you accumulate; all the articles you read about fat-busting and calorie bombs; all the foods that become forbidden, as though avoiding them is the magic bullet that will make you live longer and be happier, even though all you want is one little cookie.

And, rightfully, many of us idealize the foods we ate in childhood. I find that most people latch on to one specific junk food that they remember with keen pangs of nostalgia. For my mother, this was a pack of salted peanuts dropped into a bottle of Coca Cola. My father remembers cheese puffs and those packages of peanut butter and crackers that he (and many southerners) calls "nabs."

But the snack food I remember most affectionately is the Fig Newton. And frankly, what's not to love about the Newton? They're pleasantly soft, sweet cookies with a deeply figgy filling, and they were the stuff of many an afternoon snack in my youth. I still love them as an adult, but I know I can do better.

A huge bag of dried figs left over from last year's fruitcake-making binge prompted me to develop this recipe. And really, they're pretty fun to make--more labor-intensive than most cookies, but not difficult. I used JOY's Vanilla Icebox Cookie recipe for the dough and looked to BraveTart's recipe on Serious Eats for some pointers on technique. The final result was perhaps not as pretty as the store-bought version, but they taste oh so much better. What's more, all the ingredients are pronounceable, turning a guilty pleasure into something you can just enjoy.

Other articles you might enjoy: Oven-Poached Figs With Ricotta, Pecan or Angel Slices, Chocolate Cardamom Bars

Fig Keplers
Makes about 30 2-inch cookies

Make the dough. Whisk together:
           1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you can also use half spelt or whole wheat pastry flour, and half all-purpose)
           1 teaspoon baking powder
           1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:
           10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
           2/3 cup brown sugar

Add and beat until combined:
           1 large egg
           2 teaspoons vanilla
           Zest of one orange

Stir in the flour mixture until blended. The dough will be very soft. Scoop it out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Make the filling. In a medium saucepan, combine:
           1 pound dried figs, cut into pieces (I used kitchen shears for this)
           1/2 cup water

Bring the water to a boil. Cover the saucepan. Allow the water to boil until it is absorbed by the figs. This makes the figs easier to process. If your figs are very dry and tough, you may need to use more water and simmer for longer. Scrape the figs into the bowl of a food processor and purée, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until no chunks remain. Allow the filling to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Place a large piece of parchment on your work surface and flour it liberally. The dough is very soft. Divide the chilled dough into 4 pieces of roughly equal size. Place one piece of dough on the parchment and return the rest to the refrigerator.

Shape the piece of dough into a rectangle by squaring it on the work surface (tap the 4 sides on the surface until they form a rectangle). Roll the dough, stopping frequently to make sure it isn't sticking to the parchment, into a long rectangle, about 4 inches wide by 12 inches long. Be vigilant about lifting up the dough and reflouring it to prevent sticking. This will make life easier as you go.

Scoop the fig filling into a pastry bag or a plastic zip-top bag with one corner cut off. Pipe the filling in a 1-inch strip down the center of the dough rectangle. You may need to flatten the filling a bit--it's easier to do this if you dip your fingers into some water first. Fold one side of the dough over the filling, then the other. Press down on the seam to close it. Using the parchment, flip the cookie roll over, seam-side down. Transfer it gingerly (a large metal spatula helps) to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate while you repeat this step with the other 3 pieces of dough.

Bake for about 16 minutes or until the dough is no longer tacky and has begun to brown around the edges.

While the cookie rolls are still warm, either transfer them to a cutting board (the large spatula helps here as well) or cut them directly on the baking sheet. Cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch cookies. You may need to wipe off your knife every so often--the filling is rather sticky at this point.

Immediately place the cookies in a single layer inside a plastic zip-top bag and close the bag. This seems counterintuitive, but in order to keep the cookies soft, like the real thing, they need to steam. Cool the cookies completely. Remove them from the bags and place in an airtight container. They can be kept, at room temperature, for up to 2 weeks.

 

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