Sicilian Fig Bars {ModBak} — Move Over, Newtons!

When I saw this recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker, I knew I wanted to make them. I love figs, and I’m especially crazy about Fig Newtons. So I signed up for the official Modern Baker Challenge post and added figs to the grocery list. I have been trying to bake the recipes in this section in order, but once I had figs in the cupboard, I couldn’t wait to make these.

The ingredients list is short: figs, water, apricot preserves, dark rum, cinnamon, and cloves. And other than the figs, I had everything else on hand. After snipping the figs into a saucepan, I added the remaining ingredients, brought it to a boil, and simmered everything for 10 minutes or so, until the figs were soft.  I puréed the fig mixture in the food processor, then set it aside while I prepared the dough.

 

The dough for the fig bars is the same dough used to make biscotti regina. I made a double batch of the biscotti dough, half of which I used for the regina, and the other half to make these fig bars.

Beginning with 1/3 of the dough, I rolled it into a 12-inch rope.

I flattened the rope into a rectangle about 4 inches wide.

Then I spread 1/3 of the fig mixture on the dough,…

… folded the top half over the center,…

… and folded up the bottom half. I pressed the dough to seal it, then flipped it seam side down and put it on a cookie sheet.

I made three dough cylinders, which I put on an unrimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

I baked the bars at 350°F for about 20 minutes, until the dough was firm and golden. As I removed the pan from the oven, I inadvertently tipped it ever so slightly. Unfortunately, given the flat, rimless cookie sheet and the slickness of the parchment paper, that was enough to send 2 of the 3 cookie bars sliding off the tray and onto the bottom of the oven. Note to self: next time, use a jellyroll pan.

I let the remaining bar cool, then cut it into cookies. They weren’t pretty, but they were delicious. Both the dough and filling reminded me of my beloved Fig Newtons, especially in texture. But the filling was much more flavorful. The apricot preserves added a little citrusy sweetness, while the rum, cinnamon, and cloves gave it a spicy depth.

My fig bars could never pass for Fig Newtons. But I would pass up Newtons for these fig bars any day.

Fig & Almond Bread {BOM}

This month’s BOM (bread of the month) for the Facebook Artisan Bread Bakers group is a recipe that Nick Malgieri recently developed for his upcoming book. You can find the recipe here.

The recipe is made with a basic, sweetened bread dough enhanced with:

Figs!

And Almonds!

 I kneaded the dough in my Kitchen Aid mixer and added the figs and almonds near the end. In order to get them to mix in better, I first flattened the dough in the bottom of the mixer…

…then spread the figs and almonds on top.

I pressed the fruit and nuts into the dough, then folded the dough over itself several times with a bench scraper.

The dough is minimally kneaded at the beginning and further mixed and developed through several “turns”. After an initial 30 minute rest, I gave the dough its first turn:

First, I flattened the dough on a pastry mat.

 

Next, I folded the sides in toward the center.

 

Finally, I rolled the dough from one of the short ends,

 

...and returned it to the bowl to continue rising.

 I let the dough rise for another 30 minutes, then gave it a second turn. After 30 more minutes, it was ready to be shaped into a boule.

This dough was very nice to work with and easy to shape. And it baked up beautifully. I served the bread for dinner, along with some freshly baked French bread.

This bread was absolutely delicious! The figs and almonds paired well together, making the bread flavorful but not overly sweet. If you like raisins in bread, you’ll like this bread, even if you don’t usually like figs.

This bread really has me looking forward to Nick’s book. I can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve!

Beggar’s Linguine {FFwD}

The linguistic derivation of this dish is more complex than the dish itself, so bear with me. The French word for “beggar” is mendiant, which is derived from the Latin mendicans, from which the word “mendicant” also comes. Now, mendicant also means “begging”, but more commonly refers to religious orders who, like Blanche Dubois, rely on the kindness of strangers, which is to say, they takes vows of poverty and rely exclusively on charity for their survival.

Have I lost you yet? Hang in there.

Many religions have mendicant orders, but perhaps the best known (at least in the West) are the Catholic Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites. 

OK, so back to France, where the word mendiant has come to refer to a chocolate confection studded with dried fruit and nuts and flavored with orange peel. The fruits and nuts are meant to represent the mendicant orders: dried figs for the Franciscans; raisins for the Dominicans; hazelnuts for the Augustinians (think frangelico); and almonds for the Carmelites.

So, there you have it. Mendiant (or beggar’s) chocolate is filled with fruit and nuts. And so is beggar’s (or mendiant, or mendicant) linguine. Specifically, this dish has pistachios, almonds, figs, and raisins, along with orange zest, Parmesan, and chives.

It may sound complicated, especially if you try to follow the lineage of the name. But it’s really a simple dish. Boil linguine, brown some butter with the fruit and nuts, stir in the pasta, and season with salt, pepper, orange zest, and cheese. Toss it all together, put it in bowls, and top with some chives. You can gather and prep all your ingredients while waiting for the pasta water to boil. And if you brown the butter while the pasta is cooking, you’ll have the dish on the table in less than 20 minutes from start to finish.

This dish was a complete surprise. I couldn’t believe how well all the ingredients melded. It seems like an odd combination of ingredients, better suited to candies than a main dish for dinner, but it all worked beautifully. It was savory, with just a hint of sweetness from the orange zest, figs and raisins. The whole family loved it, and we decided it would be a great dish keep in mind for a fast, satisfying dinner.

Caramelized Figs {Recipe}

I recently bought a flat of 24 fresh figs at the market. Figs have a short season, and they are usually quite expensive in Northeast Ohio even when in season, so I was thrilled to find them for a good price. Of course, once I got them home, I had to figure out what to do with them. I scoured the ‘net looking for fresh fig recipes, and as usual, decided in the end to come up with something on my own.

I found a number of recipes for caramelized figs, figs with balsamic glaze, and fig compote. None of them was exactly what I was looking for, so I cobbled together a few recipes and came up with this one.

Caramelized Figs

Ingredients

  • 24 fresh figs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces
  • 3 whole cloves

Directions

  1. Wash and drain the figs, then cut off the stem end.
  2. Stand the figs upright in a stock pot. Sprinkle with sugar, then add remaining ingredients.
  3. Cover the pot an allow to sit overnight.
  4. The next day, uncover the pot and heat over medium-high heat until the juice begins to boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the figs have cooked down and the sauce has thickened, about five hours.
  5. Cool in the pot, then transfer to a clean jar and store in the refrigerator. The flavor will continue to develop over several weeks, and the figs will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely

Makes about one quart.

Serve the figs with savory dishes like roasted meats or cheeses, or use to top ice cream or in rice or bread pudding. The rich, spicy flavor of the figs and sauce will put you in mind of the holidays. 

My favorite way to eat them is right out of the container.