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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: andimal | March 26, 2009 12:23 PM
Posted by: davemarks | March 26, 2009 1:29 PM
Posted by: emily_ak | March 26, 2009 6:13 PM
Posted by: Shimmy1 | March 27, 2009 6:05 PM
Posted by: ipayattention | March 29, 2009 12:25 PM
Posted by: Lydiasings | April 2, 2009 12:21 PM
Posted by: sheryl1 | April 2, 2009 12:45 PM
Posted by: royreynolds2 | April 2, 2009 3:34 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.