I am a big fan of cookie dunking. We’ve covered my need to dunk before (when I talked about my hamantaschen recipe, which you can find here) but such a contentious topic deserves a bit more attention.
You see, Jeff is firmly anti-dunking. He likes cookies best in their natural state and finds the sweet softness of a dunked confection to be unappetizing at best and downright nauseating at worst. For Jeff this, as with most food-related aversions, is a texture issue. And it’s no shock that he lives in fear of soggy cookies since he is the same man who removes the submerged toast from his French onion soup before digging in.
But for me, the marriage of cookie and beverage is the best part of the whole cookie experience. But not all cookie and beverage combinations are created equal. To my mind, certain drinks call out for certain cookies. For example, the classic combination of biscotti and cappuccino works wonderfully because the airy foam softens the hard cookie just enough to produce a mouth-watering crumb. But rusks, the extra-hard South African cousin of biscotti, are best dunked in hot tea, as the jaw-breaking biscuit benefits greatly from the tea’s softening powers. Nice, crisp gingersnaps also work well dunked in tea as they retain their form and bite. Hot chocolate is best with a square of buttery shortbread, which not only stands up to the heat, but soaks in the chocolate flavor making the cookie itself doubly intense.
Of course, chocolate chip cookies are destined for a swim in a nice tall glass of milk. The cool milk cuts through the richness of the cookie, and works particularly well when the cookie is warm. There are, in fact, a whole school of traditional American cookies that beg for a glass of cold milk; graham crackers, peanut butter cookies (super easy recipe here), and Fig Newtons among others.
As a kid I was never a big fan of Fig Newtons. In my mind they fell into the dreaded category of “healthy treats” simply because fruit was involved. I probably hadn’t had a Fig Newton in twenty years until a few weeks ago, when stuck starving on the tarmac on a delayed flight, I accepted a generous gift from the gentleman in the seat next to me. Not bad, but as I sat in my tight middle seat on that 747, longing for a glass of milk, I pondered how to make new and improved Fig Newtons at home. Convenient that I had just made a batch of quick fig jam!
Fresh figs and a flaky dough are a definite improvement over the sticky sweet filing and squishy texture of the packaged version. These cookies are just perfect with a glass of milk. The texture holds up well to dunking and the cold milk does wonders for the rich, buttery dough. I used fresh Calimyrna figs for the simple filling here. Sweet, nutty, and thin-skinned, these light green figs are perfect for snacking and also perfect for a quick-fix fig jam. Feel free to substitute any other figs you like. And in a pinch, jarred fig preserves will do just fine.
Homemade Fig Newtons
2 cups chopped Calimyrna figs
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup flour (plus extra for dusting)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons milk
In a small saucepan over low heat, cook the figs, water, and brown sugar, stirring occasionally, for about 30-40 minutes, until very soft. Cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder and sugar to mix. Cut the butter in small chunks and add to the flour mixture. Pulse until the butter is well incorporated and the mixture is sandy in texture. Add the milk, one tablespoon at a time, and pulse just until the dough comes together. You may not need all of the milk. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and form into a ball, kneading once or twice, just until the ball holds together. Quickly roll out the dough into a long rectangle about 1/6 inch thick. Cut the rectangle in half. On one half of the dough, spread half of the fig mixture. Fold the dough over the fig mixture and pinch to close. Cut in 1-2 inch bars. Repeat with remaining dough and jam. Bake on a greased cookie sheet 20-25 minutes until lightly brown. Cool and serve with a glass of milk.
I featured these fig bars in my column in the Dedham Transcript this month. Check out the article here.