When I was a child, I didn’t much care for Fig Newtons — the baked bars made by Nabisco with a figgy filing. I mean. they were OK but certainly not my first choice over chocolate chip or sandwich cookies or even plain vanilla wafers.
Now, many decades later, times have changed. I love figs (especially fresh) and even have them growing outside my door. Figs are high in fiber, manganese, and potassium aside from being just plain tasty. For what it’s worth, manganese helps activate enzymes, the little proteins that help our cells work.
With holiday season upon us, and all the talk of cookies and baking, for some unknown reason, I got a real craving for fig bars. I must have intuitively known I should go homemade rather than eat the overly processed, high fructose syrup and other sickly sweet versions that are ready to eat. Good move once I checked the “Nabisco nutrition.” These bars come together really fast and take advantage of dried fruit and pantry staples, which cuts down on the shopping expense and hassle factor, especially welcome every December.
For the Fig Filling:
Twelve Ounces Black Mission Figs (or your favorite type), tough stems removed
4-6 Pitted Medjool Dates
½ tsp. Lemon Zest
½ Tsp. Lemon Juice
1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
2-4 Tbsp. Agave Nectar, Maple Syrup or Coconut Nectar (to taste)
One Cup All Purpose or White Whole Wheat Baking Flour
¾ Cup Rolled Oats
1 Tsp. Ground Cinnamon
½ Tsp. Salt
1 Tsp. Baking Powder
½ Cup Coconut Sugar or Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp. Earth Balance or similar Non-Dairy Spread, Melted
1 Tbsp. Agave Nectar, Maple Syrup or Coconut Nectar
1 Tbsp. Egg Replacer + 3 Tbsp. Water (to replace One Egg – other egg substitutes fine too)
½ Tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 Tbsp. Almond or Soy Milk
1. Prepare the Filling
Unless the figs and dates are super-soft (which can happen but rarely does with dried fruit), place figs and dates in a small saucepan and with water to almost cover. Bring to a boil, cook about three minutes. Cover, turn off the heat and let stand for about 30 minutes to soften fruit fully. Drain and reserve cooking liquid. Transfer to a food processor or a blender with remaining ingredients and process until the mixture forms a smooth paste. You can add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture is too thick. Adjust seasonings – we don’t like ours too sweet but you can suit yourself!
2. Prepare the Pastry
Mix dry ingredients in a mixing bowl (flour, oats, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and sugar). Add the melted butter and combine well. Add the remaining liquid ingredients (liquid sweetener, egg replacer, vanilla and non-dairy milk) and stir well. The mixture should be crumbly but hold together reasonably well. Again, the pastry is not overly sweet so do a taste-test and adjust as you like it.
3. Prepare the Pan
Either line an 8” square pan with parchment paper or grease lightly with some Earth Balance. The idea is you do not want your fig bars sticking as they bake.
Spread three quarters of the pastry on the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing gently with your fingers to coat the bottom evenly.. The pastry should be about ½” thick . Spread the fig filling on top, being careful to get into all the corners and completely coat the base. Crumble remaining pastry on top. The fig mixure will still be visible and will bubble up through the top of the bars.
5. Bake the Bars
If you like, you can sprinkle the top with some cinnamon sugar – we don’t always bother but it’s a nice touch. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Tops and bottom should be nicely browned. Let cool in pan 10 minutes and cut into 16 squares.
Enjoy with a bit of nostalgia and a soothing beverage. Next up – a nuttier version with apricots and pistachios… hmmmm.