Nosh: Italian Fig Bundles

Fa la la la la, la la la LAAAAA!

Whatever, haters.  No, I know it’s not even Halloween yet, but I have cookies to bake for the Christmas holidays.  These things take time.  It’s not as though they’re going to bake themselves, ohhhh lawdie be, don’t I but wish sometimes.  I cruised my recipes, I cruised the internet, and finally started to settle on some (but not all) of what I hope to make by December 21st-ish, give or take a day or two for the inevitable pre-holiday, time-stealing, unforeseen gremlin attacks.  I tend to over-plan and then wean out what seems unreasonable or really difficult as Christmas day draws nearer and nearer.  What can I say?  I like to bake cookies.

The first recipe I settled on–the first one that profoundly caught my eye, really–were these Italian fig bundles.  I just went to Italy this past March so it seemed to tie in nicely as a retrospective, though since I’ve tied together “cookies” and “March” I now feel like I have invented my own personal challenge and have to come up with “my year in cookies”.  Don’t bet on it.  Maybe next year, when I’ve had time to think about it.

Anyway, these fig bundles.  Baking for me is quite different than cooking.  Dinner?  I play with food.  Recipes are guidelines, but they’re not something to hold to religiously.  But baking?  Not so much.  Maybe it’s because I’m much less comfortable with it, maybe it’s because it seems so much more chemistry-ish to me, but my inherent disrespect for any given recipe stops at dessert.  Normally I don’t go for sandwich-type cookies because by definition they’re double the work for one end product but…you know…these were fig, man.  And they look like little raviolis.  I couldn’t say no.

So even though they end up as a fountain of deliciousness, they have humble beginnings–creamed butter and sugar, some salt, some baking powder.  When you add the milk and egg to the butter mixture, it admittedly looks a little bit like the Delaware River at low tide but stick with it, it gets better as soon as you start adding flour.

Not yet graced with the beauty of figs, but happily pre-measured and a good start nonetheless.

If, like me, you tend to lose count of how much of a particular ingredient you’ve added when you’re supposed to incorporate slowly into a mix, then do yourself a favor and pre-measure said ingredient into a separate bowl before you start adding it to your main ingredient mix.  I never would have remembered if I was on my second-and-a-half cup of flour, or my third, but when you take a few moments to measure out three and a half cups beforehand then you can incorporate it slowly and not worry about screwing up your count.  Work smarter, not harder, people.  Once all the flour’s been added, divide the dough into fours, cover everything with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for at least a half an hour, while you make your filling.

The filling, the filling.  The filling is this luxurious amalgam of dates and figs and raisins and orange juice, and it’s rich and pungent and texturally interesting.  Again, I did NOT change a thing about the recipe (no matter how profoundly I may have wanted to), but for the next batch I’m probably going to set aside a few cookies so I can add rosemary to them.  Because rosemary is awesome.  And I think it would rock.  I digress.

So put your beautiful figs and dates in a food processor, with the raisins and pine nuts and orange juice and zest and whatever else it calls for.

Dates and figs, dates and figs…

And then grind the holy crap out of them until they’re well combined and ready to go into a cookie.  This is when you thank the almighty you have a food processor.  If you don’t…prepare to get sticky.  I’ve also just realized I’m wrong, I did NOT adhere to the recipe exactly as it is written because…and I’m almost positive this is true…I don’t think I’ve ever actually measured fresh citrus zest.  Like I have that level of patience.  And, OK, I had a tangerine, not an orange.  But I just zested one whole fruit and then had a little snack, since you can’t store it without the zest.  It will dry out almost immediately.

Once you finish your filling and your dough has firmed up for half an hour in the fridge, you can get to work on the cookie.  I am not gonna lie: they took a long time.  The 50 minutes the recipe people say it should take?  Lies!  Lies!  All damnable lies!  Unless, of course, you have a sous chef and a professional kitchen with a cool marble slab to roll out your dough on that will keep it firm yet workable.  Let me put it this way: the presidential debate last night?  Hour and a half long?  Yeah.  I listened to it from the kitchen, and while it was kind of interesting to form opinions based on what was heard rather than the combination of words and visuals, that’s another story for another day.  Of course, I did everything including make the filling during that hour and a half–I wasn’t just cutting dough–but forewarned is forearmed, they say.  Plan accordingly.

They are worth it.

Anyway.  Roll out your first quarter of dough and trim and cut them into 2×2-inch squares.  Yes, use a ruler.

Rulers are a surprisingly useful kitchen tool!

Since you’re basically assembling little, baked, fruity raviolis, make it an assembly line.  Set out all your bottom layers of cookie, then add your dollops of filling, then top with the top layer of cookie, then seal, then cut the X-es in the tops, then egg wash, then finish with coarse sugar.  So much easier than trying to finish one cookie at a time before moving on to the next.  It’s all about finding a rhythm.

Moving into the “topping” stage.

Once they’re finished, just pop ’em in the oven.  The directions say to bake for 12-15 minutes.  In order to get the nice, light-toasty brown color they became, mine were probably in for about 18 minutes and I rotated them once after 7 minutes, but I think my oven is a few degrees off.  Let them cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets before moving them onto cooling racks.

It still kind of looks like an assembly line, no?

OK, so they’re not AS perfect as the cookies in the picture on the recipe website, but you know what?  The person who’s going to bitch about that doesn’t deserve to sink their teeth into my domestic largesse.  Because these little fellas are deeee-licious.

Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.

If there’s a better way to kick off the baking season, I have yet to find it.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the goodies I’ll be churning out of my kitchen.

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