Fig Bar Deja Vu

A homemade fig bar is hard to find, and a good one -- well, I’ve been searching for more than 20 years. I was fresh out of the bachelor’s degree oven, working at a gourmet shop in Philadelphia while trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grow up.

Fig bars, just out of the oven. (Kim O'Donnel)

Owned by a quartet of Persian restaurateurs, Chameleon was on the cutting edge of lunchtime fare in the late 80s, when a turkey club was considered exciting. Here you’d get chicken salad with grapes and fennel, curried egg salad and sandwiches on sesame-studded bread from the Italian Market in South Philly. And for dessert, you could have the treat of all treats -- a homemade fig bar, soft and cakey on the outside, chewy and full of fruit on the inside, and an exotic world apart from the Newtons I was raised on. I was in love.

In fact, I had a fig bar nearly every day for six months, and I remember the flavor and texture to this day, much in the same way I remember the words to a song from my childhood (I’m thinking “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” by Paper Lace).

Eventually, I got my first job in journalism, and the glory days of eating fig bars came to an end. When my career took a culinary turn, I began looking in earnest for a recipe and sadly, I never did find one that came close to the summer of the fig bar.

Until now.

If you’re a fellow fig freak, you MUST make these bars from “Baking Unplugged,” a new title by pastry chef Nicole Rees. Admittedly, the recipe calls for a lot more butter than what I’m used to working with, but you’ll end up with approximately two dozen bars, which make them great for dinner parties (or for a solo 20-year reunion.)

Although more tart-like than soft and cakey, these fig bars take me back to that very sweet, confusing summer behind the gourmet shop counter.

One last thing: Make these over the weekend, when you’ve got two hours (start to finish) to spare. And if you’ve got any ideas on reducing butter content, share in the comments area.

Fig Bars
Adapted from “Baking Unplugged” by Nicole Rees

Crust & Streusel: Ingredients
1 1/3 cups unsalted butter, melted and cooled to just warm
1 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour

Dough has been scored and is on its way to the fridge, before oven time. (Kim O'Donnel)

Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with foil (KOD: I used parchment paper), allowing ends to create an overhanging edge for easy removal. In a large bowl, stir together melted butter and ¾ cup of the brown sugar until just combined. Stir in egg yolks and salt until smooth. Stir in flour to make a stif dough (KOD: but it will be buttery, which will help). Total yield: a scant three cups.

Transfer about 2 cups of the dough to the prepared pan. With your hands, press mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or freeze 5-7 minutes) until dough is firm.

Meanwhile, make the fig filling.

Fig Filling: Ingredients
2 cups dried Mission figs, finely chopped
1 cup orange juice
½ teaspoon grated orange zest (equivalent of one orange)
¼ cup honey
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespooons dark rum, Cognac or whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over high heat with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer mixture, covered, until tender (KOD: I found that the figs softened more quickly when uncovered), up to 30 minutes, adding more water as necessary. When figs are soft, mash into a rough puree using a wooden spoon or potato masher. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to two weeks. If you do make mixture in advance, you may need to add a few tablespoons of lukewarm water to make mixture spreadable.

For the streusel, combine remaining ¼ cup brown sugar with reserved dough until crumbly. Mixture should hold together when pressed but readily break into small crumbs. (KOD: this did not happen for me, but all ended well and streusel-y.) Set aside.

When ready to bake:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake crust for 20 minutes, until crust begins to set but is not brown at all on the edges (center will not be firm yet). Remove from oven and increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread fig filling evenly over hot crust. Crumble streusel over filling.

Bake near top of oven, 20-25 minutes, until streusel is golden and set. Allow pan to cool, 1-2 hours. When bottom of pan is cool, carefully lift from pan using overhang and transfer to a cutting board. Slip lining away from bars by lifting with a metal spatula. Cut into 2-inch squares.

Makes two dozen bars.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 26, 2009; 7:45 AM ET Baking
Previous: Writers Making Lemonade Out of Layoff Lemons | Next: Coffee: Friend, Foe or Fuel?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Don't know if this would be possible with the Post's site, software, etc... but it would be very useful if there were an easy way to print recipes posted here in a format that actually filled the printed page. I always end up copying-pasting-resizing text to use these recipes!

Posted by: andimal | March 26, 2009 12:23 PM

Down here in Louisiana, where I'm currently spending my time, this is the land of the fig bar. Large fig trees are ubiquitous. Bakeries display signs: "We will buy your figs." Home owners display signs: "Figs for sale." After buying a large bag of figs for $5 last summer, I was turning onto my block and my daughter said, "Isn't that a tree with those things you just bought?" Yep. At the top of the block, figs for the pickin'. And even better than the ones I had bought.

Posted by: davemarks | March 26, 2009 1:29 PM

This is perfect timing! My husband and I were just eating some dried figs last night and discussing whether there was a recipe for homemade fig-newton-type-bars. I can't wait t try this!

Posted by: emily_ak | March 26, 2009 6:13 PM

Any ideas on replacing the eggs with something more vegetarian friendly? Milk products okay...

Posted by: Shimmy1 | March 27, 2009 6:05 PM

This sounds delicious. I've been thinking about planting my own fig tree because I it would be awesome to harvest my own - and share with the neighbors. I'll bet Captain Morgan's spiced rum would be good in these bars.

Posted by: ipayattention | March 29, 2009 12:25 PM

I like to bake cut up apples with chopped figs, hazelnuts or walnuts, vanilla, xylitol or maple syrup and put it on top of gluten free cake. Yumm!

Posted by: Lydiasings | April 2, 2009 12:21 PM

Kim, My neighbors have a huge fig bush and yearly we make fig preserves by just boiling down the peeled figs [with a tad of OJ or apple juice added and a smidgen of cinnamon). A delightfull spread with no sugar. Oil substitute is applesauce [same amount as oil]. Other alternatives are the following:
instead of 1 egg, you can use...
1 tbsp gram (chick pea) or soya flour and
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp arrowroot, 1 tbsp soya flour and 2
tbsp water
2 tbsp flour, 1/2 tbsp shortening, 1/2 tsp
baking powder and 2 tsp water
50g tofu blended with the liquid portion
of the recipe
1/2 large banana, mashed
50 ml white sauce

tips on raising agents...
use self raising flour
add extra oil and raising agent (e.g.
baking powder)
use about 2 heaped tsp baking powder per
instead of baking powder, use 3/4 tsp
bicarbonate of soda and 1 dssp cider
vinegar (good for chocolate cakes)
try sieving the flour and dry ingredients, then gently folding in the liquid to trap air

alternative binding agents...
soya milk
soya dessert - vanilla, chocolate, strawberry...
custard - see below
mashed banana
plain silken tofu
soya cream
sweet white sauce (soya milk, vegan
margarine, sugar and cornflour)
agar agar

Hope this helps!

Posted by: sheryl1 | April 2, 2009 12:45 PM

Has anyone adapted the recipe to use fresh figs. We have a large and very productive fig tree in our yard and would prefer to use fresh figs in season.

Posted by: royreynolds2 | April 2, 2009 3:34 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company