Makes 16 bars
Fig Newtons are one of the few packaged cookies we can get behind. Even so, anything homemade is bound to be better (and include fewer ingredients). Making a bar cookie version of the classic sounded like a great way to maximize the figgy filling of these cookies. While any type of leavener is an unusual addition to bar cookies, we found that ½ teaspoon of baking powder gave the crust a bit of the soft cakeyness we love in the original cookie. For a more complex flavor, we used whole-wheat flour in addition to all-purpose flour for the dough. We needed a liquid to rehydrate the dried figs before pureeing them for the filling. Water worked, but apple juice was better; it lent a fruity sweetness. A pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice enhanced the fruit’s unique flavor. We may still have a soft spot for the store-bought cookies, but they’re no match for our rich homemade fig bars. Be sure to grease the parchment when smoothing the bottom crust and when forming the top crust; otherwise, it will stick and be difficult to work with.
For the Filling
- 8 ounces dried Turkish or Calimyrna figs, stemmed and quartered
- 2 cups apple juice
- Pinch salt
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
For the Crust
- ¾ cup (3¾ ounces) all-purpose flour
- ½ cup (2¾ ounces) whole-wheat flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup packed (5¼ ounces) light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For the filling: Simmer figs, apple juice, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until figs are very soft and juice is syrupy, 15 to 20 minutes; let mixture cool slightly. Puree figs in a food processor with lemon juice until mixture has a thick, jam-like consistency, about 8 seconds.
- For the crust: Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Make a foil sling for an 8-inch square baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so each is 8 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in the pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over the edges. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil.
- Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Set aside ¾ cup of dough for topping.
- Transfer remaining dough to the prepared pan and firmly press into an even layer with a greased spatula. Top dough with a piece of greased parchment paper and smooth into an even layer. Remove parchment and bake until just beginning to turn golden, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, roll reserved dough between 2 sheets of greased parchment into an 8-inch square; trim edges of dough as needed to measure exactly 8 inches. Transfer dough, still between parchment, to the baking sheet and place in the freezer until needed.
- Spread fig mixture evenly over crust. Lay top crust over filling, pressing lightly to adhere. Bake until the top crust is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
- Let bars cool completely in a pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Using foil overhang, remove bars from the pan. Cut into 16 pieces before serving.
Top photo by Daniel J. van Ackere/America’s Test Kitchen LLC.