Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Crumby Fig Shortbread Squares

I have heard it said that you can either be a baker or a cook. Bakers, they say, like to follow directions exactly, carefully leveling the measuring cup of flour with a smooth knife. Cooks like to experiment, I've been told. They toss around ginger and garlic and throw vegetables into the pan on a whim.

I don't know if I believe that's true, because I want to be both a baker and a cook. I love baking, but I love experimenting and making recipes my own, not just following instructions. This recipe shows that. I had an image in my mind of what I wanted, but I couldn't find what I wanted in any cookbook on the shelf or any website. I mixed and matched recipes and it came out as I dreamed it would. These layered fig squares have a strong fig flavor complemented by spices and sweetened by raisins. The crumble is crunchy with walnuts but untouched by oats. They are a grown-up cookie, but kids would like them, too. My seven-year-old and ten-year-old helpers had to leave before the bars were cool enough to eat, but I sent them home with cookies to eat after dinner. I was very pleased to get an email from the older brother saying that he loved them. You will, too.

Fig Shortbread Squares
recipe adapted from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion and Smitten Kitchen

For filling:
2 c dried figs, stems removed, chopped
1 c raisins
1/4 t ground allspice
1/4 t salt
2 T fresh orange juice
1 T orange zest
1 c boiling water

For crust:
1 c white sugar
1 t baking powder
3 c flour
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg
1/4 t salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 c walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350.

Mix all filling ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is mostly absorbed by the fruit, about 4 minutes. Allow to cool. If you prefer a chunky filling, you are all done, but if you want a smoother filling, put most of it into a food processor and process until smooth. I processed about 3/4 of the figs and left the rest for texture.

Butter a 9x13 pan. Stir together dry crust ingredients (except nuts). Cut the butter into pieces and add it. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter. Stir in the egg.

Pat about 2/3 to 3/4 of the crumbly mixture into the prepared pan, pressing down to make a smooth surface. Spread the fig mixture over the bottom crust evenly. Add the walnuts to the remaining crumbs, then sprinkle evenly over the filling.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is getting golden around the outsides. Cool completely and cut into squares.

P.S. How's this font color, Daddy?

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