I admit, I've never tried a fig before, not intentionally anyways. I'm kind of a picky eater- as a kid, the only fruit I would eat were apples (preferably in sauce form or dipped in caramel), and it wasn't until I got a job at a Whole Foods Market after college and was encouraged to try all sorts of new fruits and vegetables that this started to change. I'm still striving to widen my culinary horizons- so when Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice announced that the theme of this month's Sugar High Friday was "figs", I took this as an opportunity to try something new.
You won't find any dramatic conversions here, though. I change in baby steps. So thinking about figs, I decided that the most logical thing to do would be to create something similar to one of my favorite childhood cookies, the Fig Newton (I didn't realize they had fruit in them back then, or my picky elementary-school self certainly wouldn't have eaten them).
I used a recipe for cuccidati (Italian fig cookies) from Gourmet magazine, which you can find here. I altered the recipe quite a bit, but I'm not going to publish my version of it just yet. It still needs a bit of ironing out, as you can tell from the series of mishaps that follows. So here's what I did:
-I omitted the nuts, because I don't like 'em.
-I didn't have any brandy, so I substituted orange juice
-I combined all the ingredients and then tried to grind them in a blender-- um, I don't recommend this unless you want to spend a half hour cleaning fig goo out of the nether regions of your blender. A food processor would have been ideal, but I don't have one. In the future, I would just chop the figs and raisins very finely.
-I added about 3 ounces of chopped dark chocolate.
-I realized too late that by omitting the nuts, I lost a full 1.5 cups of dry ingredients and my filling wound up being way too liquidy. I would say if you plan on omitting the nuts as well, cut back on the brandy/OJ and honey (the filling was really sweet anyways, so reducing the honey probably wouldn't hurt).
-Rolling out the dough and shaping the cookies was tricky. The key is to make sure the dough is well-chilled and not to put too much filling in the logs.
The finished product? Very tasty, but intense. The chocolate was a nice addition, but was overwhelming at times and I would add less next time (1.5-2 oz). I would probably make these again during the holidays- they do kind of scream "Christmas" (to me anyways) with all the cinnamon and cloves and orange. I did put the glaze on a few of them, but that made them too sweet for my taste.
I may even try this recipe again without the spices, when I want something more like a plain old Fig Newton.
I had some dried figs left over, and decided to make them into tarts. I made a fig jam using this recipe (I rehydrated the figs first, and added some extra water during cooking). The procedure for the tarts is fairly simple- make a tart crust of your choice (I used the almond sweet tart dough from Baking with Dorie), press into tart pan, top with jam, decorate if you so desire, then bake at 400 F until done (about 15 minutes for my mini-tarts). In the end, I actually liked these better than the cookies.
So, that's one small step for me towards trying something new. Will I ever work up the courage to try fresh figs? Stay tuned!