About the figs part: I have a bountiful tree of them in my backyard. It provides me fruit aplenty, enough for grilling fresh, drying for later, and making fig marmalade. I especially like the marmalade use because it can be stored in the frig and remain “fresh” for months. About the Newton part. This name is not because of Isaac Newton, the renowned (though somewhat disputed) discoverer of gravity and the most famous bearer of that name. Rather, figs and Newton came together in a cookie bar created in 1891 by the Kennedy Biscuit Company, later called Nabisco, located near the town of
Newton, Connecticut, so the cookies were whimsically called Newtons. Fig Newton cookies came into my kitchen when, considering the fig marmalade I had just made, I thought of the store-bought fig Newtons of my childhood, which I loved back then. It was not exactly a Proustian recollection to generate volumes of prose, but it did lead me to make a better cookie dough for the fig filling. Left to “age” for a few days, the butter and flour meld together like a couple finding their mutual comfort. After 2 days, it’s great. After 5 days, they’re fantastic!
Fig and Fennel Seed Marmalade
Makes about 1 cup
12 ounces ripe but still firm fresh figs, any color
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, depending on the sweetness of the figs
1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Cut the figs into quarters or eighths, depending on their size. Place them in a large microwave-safe bowl or small saucepan, add the sugar, and toss to coat. Set aside to macerate for 30 minutes or so.
2. Add the fennel seeds and lemon juice and toss to mix. Microwave or cook over medium heat, stirring two or three times, until the juices are bubbling up and the mixture is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 8 minutes either way. Cool and use right away or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Newton Cookie Dough
This dough is more cookie-like than the “original” fig Newton dough, which is more cake-like. It will serve to enfold numerous other fillings from raspberry or apricot jam to pulverized, honied walnuts or pistachios.
1/ 2 cup sugar
1/ 2 cup butter (1 stick)
2 cups all purpose flour, 1/ 2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, mixed together
Extra flour for rolling out the dough
1. Combine the sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse briefly to mix into a crumble.
2. Add the egg and process briefly to mix.
3. In three rounds, add the flour mixture, pulsing briefly each time, until you have a crumbly, moist dough that holds together when squeezed. Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap, enclose, and press into a smooth disk. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 3 days.
4. To make the cookies, divide the dough in half and bring to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half into a rectangle about 12 inches long by 10 inches wide. Spread half of the marmalade, mounding it up a bit, along the long center of each rectangle. Gently fold up the long sides of the dough to enclose the marmalade, making a log. Transfer each log, seam side down, to a baking sheet (not necessary to grease it).
6. Bake until very golden across the top and browning along the edges, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool and settle for at least 1 hour.
7. Slice the logs crosswise at 3/4-inch intervals. Serve, or set the cookie slices aside at room temperature, not wrapped, overnight, up to 5 days or so. They improve with time.