Last updated on November 18th, 2016
Guess what? An improved, updated version of this recipe can be found in my cookbook Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats. Preorder it now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie bookstore!
Ramona, her face shining with happiness, looked at her friends sharing the applesauce. “Those cookies are filled with worms. Chopped-up worms!” she gleefully told everyone.
“Why, Ramona!” Beezus was shocked. “They aren’t either. They’re filled with ground-up figs. You know that.” Ramona did not answer. Her mouth was full of fig Newtons.
—Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary
Oh, Ramona. Despite being typecast as Beezus due to my older-sister status, I’ve always felt a kinship with you and your strong opinions on Fig Newtons.
But when ReadyMade asked me to create a homemade version and taste-test it against the store-bought kind for the next Taste Off installment, I put all thoughts of minced wrigglers aside to develop a cookie combining the nostalgic lunchbox memories of the Newton and an adult appreciation of the savory, seasonal fig.
Luckily, the group of brainy ladies I recruited for the blind taste test are all Newtons aficionados. (Maybe that’s where I went wrong? Eat Fig Newtons, develop super brain powers, and make the world a better, more beautiful place? Sigh.) Pulling no punches in the name of truly objective reporting, the group came to some earth-shattering conclusions.
Whole grain and so-called “healthy” versions of Newtons are the crunchy camp counselors of the cookie world. While they earnestly broadcast their good intentions and virtuous ingredients with whole-grain crusts and actual seeds in the fig filling, the testing panel would rather hang out with the cool kids.
The satisfyingly old-school original Newtons took everyone right back to lunchboxes in the all-purpose room and after-school snack time (no word on whether said snack time also included friends who were as gleefully bossy as Ramona Quimby.)
And the homemade version, while sticking out from the bunch like a sticky thumb with their (slightly) unevenly spread filling, was a religious experience for a bunch of the tasters, giving them flashbacks to Hamantaschen and cakey Linzer-style Christmas cookies.
But what really sold the OG Newtons and the homemade cookies were the right balance between filling and crust—not too moist, not too dry, with a clearly defined textural contrast.
Click the image below for a full-size PDF of our Taste Off.
Homemade Fig Newtons
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes, including chilling time for dough
Makes 4 dozen cookies
- 1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 large eggs
- 8 ounces (1/2 pound) dried Mission figs, tough stems removed, quartered
- 2 cups fresh orange juice (from about 6 oranges)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Sift the flours, salt, and baking powder together in a bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugars and butter together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the dry ingredients to make a stiff dough.
Pat the dough into a disk, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour to firm up.
While the dough is chilling, stir the figs, juice, sugar, and ginger together in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer until figs are soft and the liquid is reduced to a jamlike consistency, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the fig filling to a mini food processor and pulse until pureed. Cool the fig filling to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
On a well-floured work surface, divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll one of the pieces into an 8×10-inch rectangle approximately 1/4-inch thick. Trim the edges with a pastry scraper, then cut into 2 inch-wide strips.
Spread half the strip with 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp of filling using your fingers or an offset spatula, then fold the uncovered half over to make a sandwich. You should average about 4 strips per quarter of dough and 3 filled cookies per strip.
Use the pastry scraper to cut the strip into cookies approximately 1 1/2 inches wide and transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining three pieces.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Cool on racks before serving.