DIY Fig Newtons
Confession: Going into this DIY project, we knew very little about Fig Newtons except that we love eating them. We had no idea how long they’d been around, and we thought maybe they’d been named for one of the famous Newtons — Juice, Huey, Helmut, Olivia, Sir Isaac, Thandie, there are so many — or, at the very least, someone’s beloved dog. But no, the 129-year-old cookie is named for a Boston suburb. How romantic? Very, if you live there and you love the little bars. (Imagine: Fig Segundos.)
Doesn’t everyone — love them, that is? The pastry is more biscuit than cookie: lightly sweet, and pleasantly dense and crumbly. The filling is rich and figgy sweet and a little crunchy, thanks to the seeds. Fig Newtons are a bar, they’ve got some heft, and overall they’re heartier and, dare we say it, a wee bit healthier than the average cookie. (If you look at them sideways through the fruit-snack lens.)
In our reading, we discovered that the key to cranking out millions of Fig Newtons is a very fancy machine that extrudes both the dough and the filling. It seemed like a fun DIY challenge to make them without one, and after testing a few existing recipes, we started completely from scratch with the hopes of creating a fig bar that has something like the taste and texture of the original.
Well, almost completely: The dough is based on the one from our recent DIY Oreos, minus the cocoa powder, and plus some honey and cinnamon. It’s nutty, lightly spiced, and just the right amount of sweet. It’s also a dream to roll out. Rather than extruding the little buggers, we roll the dough into thin strips, pipe on the filling, fold the edges over it, and cut our bars. Take that, machines! The filling itself is made with fresh figs, apple juice, lemon juice, and a couple pinches of brown sugar. It tastes sweet-tart and wonderfully figgy — a flawless replica of the real thing, if just a smidge brighter.
The DIY Fig Newtons bake up a pale, golden brown. Right out of the oven, the pastry is a little crunchy, but let the bite-size bars sit, and they’ll soften to that dense, crumbly texture you know and love.
DIY Fig Newtons are the official snack of road trips, hikes, and camping trips. They’re also eaten by the stack during coffee breaks and epic bouts of Animal Crossing (superb with milk!). But they can venture into more formal territory: you might put a few Newton towers on a cheese board or break the bars into chunks and sprinkle them over vanilla ice cream.
For the cookie dough:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1 large Gelson’s egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the fig filling:
1 cup apple juice
2 cups dried mission figs, halved
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp packed light brown sugar
Pinch kosher salt
To make the cookie dough: Whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, brown sugar, and honey, and beat on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, and beat until combined.
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour in two batches, beating until combined after each addition.
Form the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
To make the fig filling: In a small saucepan, bring the apple juice to a simmer. Cook until reduced to ⅓ cup, about 25 minutes.
In a food processor, combine the concentrated apple juice, figs, lemon juice, and brown sugar. Process until a smooth paste forms, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the fig paste to a piping bag.
To make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 325°. Stack two rimmed baking sheets, and line the top sheet with parchment paper. (Stacking will keep the bottoms of the cookies from getting too dark.)
Dust a flat work surface with flour. Roll out the dough into a 15x20” rectangle.
Cut the dough into 4 2 ½”-wide strips.
Cut a 1”-wide hole in the bottom of the piping bag. Hold the piping bag at a 90° angle over the dough and pipe a shallow line, about ¼” thick, down the middle of each strip.
Fold the edges of the dough over the filling and press gently to seal. Trim the ends, flip the strips over, and place them on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until the dough is firm but not yet golden brown.
Allow the Fig Newtons to cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheet, and then cut them into 1” pieces and allow them to cool completely. Fig Newtons will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container.