Category: figs

Figgy pudding bars made with Duchy Originals oaten biscuits!

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

Christmas is officially on it’s way. The big tree in Rockefeller Center has been lit for 2 weeks now, everyone has been shopping up a storm, and of course baking! Rightly so… it’s literally 8 days away! If you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking of Christmas-y treats. Which brings me to today’s post. If you’re a longtime reader, you’ll remember both my figgy pudding cupcakes & also that last holiday season I made a recipe featuring Duchy Originals lemon shortbread cookies.

(If you’re a new reader- well, suffice it to say, one time I made figgy pudding cupcakes & another time I made a lemon cranberry cobbler recipe featuring Duchy Originals lemon shortbread cookies. Haha.)

Duchy Originals oaten biscuits... transformed into figgy pudding bars!

Anyway… the lovely folks at Duchy Originals wanted me to create a new recipe, this time for their Oaten biscuits. The oaten variety was the first one that was made for Duchy:

The Oaten Biscuit was the original Duchy Original – it was their first product back in 1992. Duchy Originals grow the wheat and oats themselves on farms in the UK. To get the perfect recipe and flavor, they teamed up with Walkers Shortbread who have been making shortbread in the Scottish Highlands for over 100 years.

Of course I said yes! I absolutely love the Duchy company & also the Walkers Shortbread company. In case you weren’t aware, Duchy was started by Prince Charles (yes-that Prince Charles!) in 1992 in order to promote organic food and farming and to help protect and sustain the local countryside and wildlife. it is one of the U.K.’s leading organic and sustainable food companies, producing a range of over 250 products from biscuits to preserves and gifts to garden seeds. A donation from the sale of Duchy Originals products is given to The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation. More than $1 million is raised annually in this way for distribution to charitable causes all over the world. Duchy Originals from Waitrose shortbreads and cookies are baked by the world famous Walkers Shortbread in the Scottish Highlands.

And I thought it appropriate that being that they’re an English brand, and it’s Christmas, I make a “figgy pudding” reference.

Easy figgy pudding cookie bars! Made with Duchy Originals oaten biscuits & fig butter. You can use store-bought fig butter if you need to.

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Brains in a jar.

Credit: Flickr user carbonated

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My favorite time of year is officially in full-swing. Halloween! I’m not kidding when I say that this is by far my favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. I love all holidays, yes, and Christmas is great. But Halloween is the absolute best. Winter weather is too cold for me, whereas autumn is beautiful. If I can quote myself (from a few years ago):

Ah, Halloween. Best night of the year in my humble opinion. Then again, anytime you can leave your house in New York, see 5 zombies, 4 vampires, 7 witches and a bunch of ghosts, tell your friends about it (while you’re dressed as, say, a prostitute) and not be committed to a mental hospital or drug treatment facility is a good night. But I’m just one of those macabre people who loves classic horror movies, witches, and all things black, so why wouldn’t I love Halloween? And hello? Free candy? Does it get any better? I think the way the weather is and the way the stores and houses are decorated for Halloween should stay that way for always. Its just the best. I mean, Christmas rocks too in its own way, but I hate the cold and the snow, and as a non-religious person I celebrate it as “Santa and reindeer and pretty lights” time, which isn’t anywhere near as fun and wacky as “zombie, witch and vampire” time, but does indeed have its own merit and is admittedly my second favorite holiday. Maybe that’s why I like the movie ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ so much? At any rate, I can rhapsodize about how much I love Halloween all day long but that won’t get the frosting on the cupcake so lets move on.

I can’t help it. I love seeing the monsters & the ghosts, I love the black cats everywhere, I love the colors. I’m kind of a creepy person, too, so the creep factor ups the ante for me. Christmas isn’t creepy, it’s cheery. In the spirit of all things creepy, I made brains in a jar.

Okay, okay. They’re not brains. They’re figs in brandy. But they look like brains, sorta, don’t they?

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COME ON. It’s HALLOWEEN. They totally look like shriveled little brains. That makes them perfect for serving at a Halloween party or for bringing to a Halloween party. A grown-up Halloween party, I mean *cough* You know, one of those really adult ones where you all get blindfolded & pass around a bowl of warm cooked spaghetti & say it’s someone’s intestines or something… that kind of really grown-up event. Cocktails & entrails. That’s my kind of event.

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The nice thing about this recipe is that it uses dried figs, which here in NY are far easier to find than fresh figs. I understand that the fresh fruit doesn’t ship well, so us here on the East Coast (especially north) have a harder time getting them. But still, I don’t really know why they’re so rare, I see them once, fleetingly, and then they’re gone. Or I see them for a crazy price and I’m all like, “WHAT?” Last year I got lucky & got those fresh figs for an excellent price. This year I’ve only seen small containers of them at Fairway for like $6.00. I don’t want five figs for 6 bucks, dude. Five figs would barely make 2 8-oz. jars of fig jam, if that.

But this recipe was a godsend. I can scoop up all those dried fig packages and use them! The recipe calls for Calimyrna figs.

To fig connoisseurs, Calimyrnas are the ne plus ultra (nee-plus-UL-tra) of figs. Comparing them with other cultivated varieties is like comparing red snapper with swordfish or hamburger with filet mignon. If you don’t particularly like figs, you probably have never tasted a fresh Calimyrna. Since they are extremely perishable, most of the Calimyrna crop is used for dried figs, confectioneries and pastries.

Up until the late 1800s, Calimyrna growers in California were puzzled as to why their trees would not set fruit. It was finally discovered that they needed a tiny female wasp pollinator from Asia Minor (Blastophaga psenes) that lives inside the fruits of pollen-bearing wild figs (called caprifigs). Capri refers to goat and the inedible wild figs were apparently fed to livestock. The tiny wasps are only two millimeters long, small enough to pass through the “eye” of a sewing needle. Wasp-bearing caprifigs are now grown in California, and each summer they are placed in the little brown bags in Calimyrna orchards. This process, called caprification, is vital to the Calimyrna growers.

Calimyrna figs are a high-energy, nutritious fruit, high in vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and iron. They are easily digested and are an excellent source of natural fiber. One large dried fig contains about 65 dietary calories (kilocalories). The California Fig Institute located in Fresno has prepared an extensive list of delectable fig recipes, from fig muffins and cookies to fig puddings and pies.

Calimyrna figs are golden yellow and slightly larger than black mission figs.

-Source

While I’m sure Mission figs probably would work the same, they definitely wouldn’t look the same. It would be very dark. I think you could probably substitute Kalimata figs and get a decent brainy-looking jar, though. if the brain angle doesn’t matter, then you can use whatever dried figs you want! And speaking of that… you can call ‘em whatever you want. Drunken Figs, Figs with a Drinking Problem, whatever. But to me they’ll always be ‘Brains in a jar.’

BRAINS IN A JAR (also known as Figs in Brandy, from Saveur)

Makes about 4 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. dried figs (preferably calimyrna), soaked in water and refrigerated overnight
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brandy
  • 1 tsp. citric acid

Directions:

  1. Drain the figs, then transfer to a 4-quart saucepan and cover with 6 cups water. Bring water to a boil over a high heat and cook for 15 minutes. Add the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine, and return to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup brandy. Bring mixture back to a boil, then remove it from the heat and set aside.
  2. Place four 1-pint canning jars along with their bands and lids in a 6-quart pot of boiling water and leave for 30 seconds. With tongs, transfer the jars, bands, and lids to a kitchen towel on the counter. Let air-dry. When the jars are dry, add 1/4 tsp. citric acid to each. Using a slotted spoon, remove the figs from the saucepan and pack them into the jars. Then pour the brandy syrup over the figs, leaving 1″ of space below the rims of the jars. (Pour in more brandy if the syrup does not reach the top of the figs.) Wipe the rims of the jars with a hot damp towel. Cover and seal each jar with a lid and screw the bands on.
  3. Place the jars in a large pot fitted with a rack; pour in enough water to cover the jars by at least 3″. Bring to a boil over high heat; boil for 20 minutes. (When using this recipe at altitudes of 1,001 to 6,000 feet, add 20 more minutes of processing time; above 6,000 feet, add another 5 minutes.) Turn off the heat; let sit for 5 minutes. Transfer jars to a kitchen towel and let cool for 6 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

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I used Paul Masson brandy because it’s affordable and not top of the line, yet it has a nice light taste and a good flavor. It’s silly to use top shelf stuff in this- the brandy just ends up absorbing the fig flavor. However by the same token, you don’t want to use a really cheap nasty-tasting brandy either. Remember that while the brandy is sweetened and will take on the figgyness, the figs will also end up taking on the brandy flavor. So don’t completely skimp out but don’t break the bank buying something you can’t afford. Mid-range is always a good bet. Same principle as when choosing the olive oil with the melanzane sott’olio/peppers in oil. Also, you should be able to find citric acid at Walmart (just make sure it’s food grade), but if not you can use lemon juice.

I had leftover brandy-syrup, so I strained it and poured it into an 8-ounce jar and when it cooled, the jar sealed. That would be excellent on ice cream or pound cake. Not sure why I had that much syrup left, I halved the entire recipe. Not that I’m complaining mind you.

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And of course, you have to put a label on them, right?

For all my fellow geeks: the fonts used are ‘Monsterfreak‘ and ‘Bat Font

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The memories of my high school science lab are flooding back. The giant old tables with the black tops. The big cabinets with the glass doors that held microscopes, old books and jars filled with animals & animal parts in formaldehyde. But just like those cabinets, the ideas for Halloween-y canned goods are never ending. Canned whole tomatoes can be labeled as hearts (so can whole strawberries). Pickled wax beans can be fingers or earthworms, pickled grapes can be eyeballs. Blood orange marmalade doesn’t really need a new name, but strawberry jam or cherry preserves can be passed off as “guts.” Sick, right? I bet you’ll never look at those things the same way again!

Use your imagination. That’s exactly what this time of year is all about.

Preserving: traditions… and some fruits, nuts & tea.

I’ve heard a lot recently about keeping traditions alive, especially after someone has passed away. For me it’s important. Vital, even. And that’s been something that has always been important in my family. The year my great-grandfather Tom died in late November (my grandmother’s father), her & my grandpa put up a Christmas tree. A smaller one, but still. The year her mother Mary passed away right before Halloween, her brother still passed out candy at the house because it was his mother’s favorite holiday. To not do these things would feel wrong to us. However, everyone grieves differently. For us it’s important to continue with the things those people loved to do… we’d feel sadder & lonelier without them. To each his own. But for me, that’s how our ancestors & family members are kept alive. Making their recipes, using their decorations, etc. Doing the things they used to do & love. Preserving the traditions. My grandma loved Christmas, to not celebrate it would be wrong.

Speaking of preserving…. in the last few days before Christmas, I thought I’d throw in three more ideas for seasonally appropriate jams/conserves/jellies. Perfect for gift-giving, as additions to the Christmas dinner/after-dinner spread, or for a Christmas Day brunch. All three are different, yet totally Christmas-y. And in case you’re wondering…

Conserves are made with dried fruits and nuts and are cooked. They have a very thick and chunky texture. Conserves work very well as a spread and as a condiment for meats and cheeses.

Jam is a thick mixture of fruit, pectin, and sugar that is boiled gently but quickly until the fruit is soft and has an organic shape, yet is still thick enough that it spreads easily and can form a blob. In addition to being a spread, jams are also good for fillings.

Jelly is made from sugar, pectin, acid, and fruit juice and is a clear spread that is firm enough to hold its shape. Jellies can also be made from ingredients other than fruit, such as herbs, tea, wine, liqueurs, flowers, and vegetables.

- source: TheKitchn

Does that clear up the confusion? So anyway, like I said, three recipes. Yes. I said THREE. Three whole recipes today. I must be crazy, right? Three recipes for three different types of jarred up, old timey, homestyle holiday fare. I guess you could say this post is a trifecta of awesomeness. Or a triple threat. Whatever it is- it rocks.

Those are regular size cupcake liners used as lid covers!

First up is the conserve; made with dried figs, dried plums & walnuts. The recipe was sent to me by my friend Chrisie who found it in an old cookbook of her grandma’s. I used whole dried Black Mission figs & Plum Amazins’ diced dried plums myself- the original recipe calls for two types of dried figs. I had the plums & figured why the hell not. My mother is a big fig person, so these were made specifically as a gift for her. I’m giving you the original recipe in it’s entirety, with any modifications I did in parentheses.

FIG (& PLUM) & WALNUT CONSERVE

Makes roughly 8 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup packed dried black figs
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup packed dried California figs, or any medium light brown figs (I substituted Plum Amazin dried plums)
  • 1 medium orange, both the juice & the fruit (I used just the juice from a small orange, since I used slightly more figs than called for, I didn’t think I needed extra pulp or fruit)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar (I used half light brown, half dark brown)
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup white wine (I omitted this)
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups toasted walnuts, chopped (I didn’t toast them, I just tossed them in and let them cook with the fruit)
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage (I used cardamom instead, only ½ teaspoon)

Directions:

  1. Snip the stems off the figlets and place in a large bowl along with the boiling water for 30 minutes. Slice the California figs in half (if using the Plum Amazin’s there’s no need to do that, they’re already diced) and place in a large pan along with the figlets and fig water.
  2. Cut the orange in half; juice half and dice the remaining half, including rind, into small pieces. Add the orange juice to the pan. Mix in the remaining ingredients, except the walnuts and sage (or, like I used, cardamom). Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in the walnuts and sage and cook for an additional 10 minutes (I let it cook down longer, so it was a much thicker consistency). Spoon the fig and walnuts into clean, hot jars, pressing down.
  3. Ladle the juice over the fruit, leaving ½”-inch headroom. Wipe the rims clean and seal. Invert the jars for 10 minutes. Restore to an upright position and cool. Check the seals, label and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

Since it’s an old recipe, and it relies on the inversion method, you might want to add in about 15 minutes processing time in a water bath canner. Unless you’re not anal about these things. I know the USDA would say otherwise, but this recipe is old & I doubt anyone died from it. Still & all I’d hate to be responsible for anyone croaking from preserves.

And next… the big ol’ boozehound of the crew: vanilla-brandy chestnut jam. This smelled so good cooking on the stove, it took everything in my power to not eat it. Seriously. As it was cooking, I wanted to just eat it right out of the pot. Then once the brandy was added… well, forget it. It seems like this is a pretty insane jam. Very rich, very dessert-like.

VANILLA-BRANDY CHESTNUT JAM

Makes about 8 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¾ lbs. peeled chestnuts, chopped
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
  • 3 cups light brown sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons brandy (depending on taste)

Directions:

  1. Put peeled chestnuts and vanilla bean (or extract) in large sauce pan and just cover with water. Cover pan and bring to a boil; simmer until chestnuts are tender (about 30 min.). Remove and set aside vanilla bean. Drain chestnuts, reserving cooking liquid.
  2. Put chestnuts, sugar, and about 5 tablespoons cooking liquid in heavy pan. Split vanilla bean and scrape out seeds; add seeds and bean to pan. Heat mixture gently, stirring & gently “smooshing” the chestnuts (don’t worry if they remain in little chunks), until sugar is dissolved, then raise heat and boil until mixture is thick. Remove and discard vanilla bean (if used); stir in brandy.
  3. Ladle hot jam into sterilized jars, seal, and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

If you prefer a smoother jam, without chunks, then purée the chestnuts before step 2. I like jams to have chunks of fruit (in this case nuts) in ‘em, so I left the pieces of chestnut. And I’ll be honest here & say I bought pre-peeled chestnuts. I could not sit there & do that until my fingers bled… that’s dedication. I just like to reap the benefits. Plus, I scaled it back to make just 4 4-oz. jars, so for that small amount of chestnuts it’s kinda silly to go through all that. But certainly do as you wish.

And finally… last but not least… Gingerbread spice jelly! Made from TEA. Who’da thunk it? This is a fantastic idea, one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” type of deals. As soon as I saw this in Taste of Home magazine, I ripped it out & circled it.

GINGERBREAD SPICE JELLY (courtesy of Robin Nagel from Taste of Home magazine, December 2011)

Makes 5 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 18 individual gingerbread spice tea bags (I used Celestial Seasonings’ Gingerbread Spice tea because it’s the only one I know of!)
  • 4 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 pouches (3 oz. each) liquid fruit pectin

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from the heat; add tea bags. Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Discard tea bags. Stir in the sugar, apple juice and butter. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove from heat; skim off foam. Carefully ladle hot mixture into hot jars, leaving ¼”-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner (adjust that for your altitude). Let cool on a tea towel for 12 hours. Check seal. (Recipe author says jelly may take up to 2 weeks to fully set- mine set as soon as it cooled)

Since these are all wrapped up & ready to be given as gifts, I can’t tell you how any of them taste yet. But I’m sure they’re both amazing. From what I saw & smelled, I think the fig conserves would be excellent on a cracker with a piece of cheese (maybe even on a sour cream pound cake), and the chestnut jam would probably be awesome with a piece of pound cake or over vanilla ice cream. Now the jelly… hmm… I’d say on warm toast with a cup of tea. But I also kinda wanna say that it’d be great in thumbprint cookies.

Speaking of wrapped up- if you want to do this with your preserves as an easy way of jazzing ‘em up, wait until after the 12-24 hours are up and you’re sure they’re cooled & sealed. Then just unscrew the band, place a cupcake liner on the top & screw the band back on. Totally simple! And after seeing all the amazing entries in Well Preserved‘s Pimp That Preserve contest, you might have been inspired to start pimpin’ your jars… but you just didn’t know where to start! Well this is an easy way. Then you can just tie a ribbon on it, put a label on & you’re done. Although I happen to think the homemade labels & little penguin stickers on my Gingerbread jelly are mighty cute, too (they’re from the scrapbooking section of Michael’s). Be creative. Take it from a 2011 Pimp That Preserve winner *wink* The best thing about giving jars of treats like these as gifts is that unlike cake, cupcakes, cookies or bread, there’s no expiration date. Well there is, but it’s so far in the future no one has to feel the need to eat it all in one week!

Maybe Santa would like a jar of one of these instead of the usual cookies this year?

Fiendish figs.

Before I get started with fiendish figs, let me say that my fiendish feline is extremely excited. See, because at this time of year everyone hangs up cardboard cut-outs or pictures of black cats, or has light up black cat figurines, and because stores are selling stuffed black cats & black cat costumes, etc, she thinks October is Arwyn Awareness month. Silly muffin. She thinks she should get royalties for all her likenesses out there. Though I must say, I do agree, she does deserve accolades & recognition… just look at how gorgeous she is! Coincidentally, last week it was her 9th birthday. I know, she doesn’t look 9! Happy birthday, sweet girl. ❤

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And so the Halloween season starts. SO EXCITING. By now, if you’re a regular reader, you know that Halloween is my most favoritest holiday. Last year, I put together a compilation post of some of my best Halloween ideas, but I did it before I posted any new ones, so be sure to check out the NEW compilation post and also Halloween category if you’re in search of ideas. Anyway, Halloween & me are BFF’s from way back. Seriously. I’m kinda obsessed with this holiday. It goes back further than me, though, it was my great-grandmother Rooney’s favorite holiday & my maternal grandparents loved it too, so in turn my mother always loved it. So growing up my house was always filled with different kinds of papier-mâché pumpkins & ghosts & goblins; many of which were vintage, handed down through the generations. As a matter of fact I see much of it in Martha’s Halloween magazines each year, labeled as ‘rare’ or ‘sought after.’ I have two pumpkins from the 1940′s that hang in my windows with lights in them that are probably worth a pretty penny. Not that I’d ever sell. As it is, my dumb ass just last week broke the last jadeite bowl of my grandmother’s that I had left in an act of stupidity.

So anywho, in the new 2011 Martha Stewart Halloween magazine (aka my 2nd bible, the first being this), stewed & honey-drenched figs are featured along with cheese as part of a Halloween menu. Ironically, the day I bought the magazine *cough*way back at the beginning of September because I’m insane*cough* I had also bought a delicious looking pound of fresh figs at my favorite market. Also equally ironic was that that evening, Punk Domestics posted a link on Facebook titled something along the lines of “Fig it up.” Hm. Were figs trying to send me messages? Are they trying to mess with my subconscious?

*cue theme from ‘Psycho’*

Not likely. It was just fig season, is all. But my story is far creepier. Either way, I got the message: time to work on those figs!

I hadn’t planned on preserving them, bit upon further inspection a few were ripening, and if you know figs you know that happens quite quickly. And once it does, it’s an express train to no-good town. So I decided to make some fig preserves, knowing full well I can’t leave well enough alone & that they would soon turn into something else…

The Common fig (Ficus carica) is widely known for its edible fruit throughout its natural range in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region, Iran, Pakistan, northern India, and also in other areas of the world with a similar climate, including Arkansas, Louisiana, California, Georgia, Oregon, Texas, South Carolina, and Washington in the United States, south-western British Columbia in Canada, Durango, Nuevo León and Coahuila in northeastern Mexico, as well as areas of Argentina, Australia, Chile, and South Africa.

Figs can also be found in continental climate with hot summer, as far north as Hungary and Moravia, and can be harvested up to four times per year. Thousands of cultivars, most named, have been developed or come into existence as human migration brought the fig to many places outside its natural range. It has been an important food crop for thousands of years, and was also thought to be highly beneficial in the diet.

Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, and used in jam-making. Most commercial production is in dried or otherwise processed forms, since the ripe fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well.

-Wikipedia

It looks lovely in the sunlight…

As it got closer to October, I thought figs were an appropriate thing to use around this time of year. Seeing as how not only are they plentiful & in season, but they also look a bit sinister in the form of jam or preserves. Blood red & seedy, it could be any kind of body part or bodily organ in a jar for your Halloween pleasure. As a matter of fact, even when not in the form of preserves & just sliced figs look a bit strange. Plus, it pairs well with cheese, so it’s great to have a small plate of sliced figs or jar of preserved figs open for your Halloween party, with some Humboldt Fog cheese (as Martha recommends) or Brie, or even Mascarpone cheese & crackers. Alternately, you could make haunting little fig cookies, such as I did. You know, fiendish figlets; cookies somewhat like Fig Newtons… but scarier. Muahahaha. They even resemble cut-up fingers, sort of, especially if you roll your dough strips a bit thinner. Very Halloweenie. And also kind of vampirical (is that a word?) when you think about it. You cut through the flesh of a fig, which if ripe is almost bruised like human flesh, and you get to the bloody middle. How creepy & morbid am I!

I used Black Mission figs, which are a very sweet variety, therefore I added some lemon juice to my preserves as to add a little balance (and to add some acidity for preservation, just to err on the side of caution). I also chose to add a smidgen of super-finely chopped crystallized ginger, and by smidgen I mean smidgen. I didn’t want it too overwhelming, just a slight hint of it. Another excellent option is anise, if you like that, or even lemon zest. But just the fig alone is divine, however, so don’t sweat it if you’re not into the additions. I used (and slightly altered) an incredibly easy Emeril Lagasse recipe that you don’t need to process in a water bath; you can just jar it and refrigerate it for immediate use. And if you’re using it just for the cookies or for a date/time not too far in the future, and you’re just going to refrigerate it, then you can do that.

Speaking of those cookies…

It’s also pretty lovely in artificial light, wrapped in dough.

FIG & GINGER PRESERVES

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound figs, washed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ – ½ teaspoon finely chopped crystallized ginger (or even more if you want a significantly more powerful ginger flavor)

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, mix figs and sugar together and cook on low heat, uncovered, about 30 minutes. After the figs break down slightly, about 10-15 minutes, add lemon juice and ginger, then stir.
  2. If processing, pour hot preserves mixture into a hot, sterile 1-quart or 2 (1-pint) glass canning jars, filling jar to within ⅛-inch from top; wipe rim and seal jar with lid. Put jar in water-bath canner or on rack set in a deep kettle and cover with hot water by 1 to 2 inches. Bring to a gentle simmer (180° to 185° degrees), and process, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer jar to a rack using tongs and let cool completely. Store in a cool, dark place. If not processing, pour into a warmed jar and cool then refrigerate and/or use immediately.


FIENDISH LITTLE FIG COOKIES (adapted from The Boastful Baker/Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard)

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 large egg white
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 8-oz. jar fig & ginger preserves

Directions:

  1. Cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, for 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl and paddle. Add the egg white and vanilla and beat in. Scrape down the bowl and paddle again. Add the flour and beat on low speed until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, or overnight.
  2. Place racks in middle and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. On a floured surface, roll the dough out into two 6 x 8″ rectangles. Cut each into 4 equal strips. Spoon a line of filling down the center of each strip. Fold the dough over the filling and pinch the edges together. Place on the parchment-lined baking sheets, seam side down. Place baking sheets in the freezer for 10 minutes.
  4. Using a serrated knife, slice each log on the diagonal into 10 cookies. Bake, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

The more I look at them, the more they look eerie. Maybe it’s just me, but they remind me of a Halloween candle I used to have that was in the shape of a hand, coated in flesh colored wax, but then when you burned the fingers… the wax inside was red. These are some spooky little cookies, huh?


This recipe can be adapted to use whatever kind of figs you have, actually almost any kind of jam, preserves or paste (i.e. guava) as well. The full recipe includes directions on making a fig filling instead of my preserves, if that floats your boat. I like mine for this time of year because they’re a redder color than the traditional fig filling, adding to the creepy vibe. You could also roll the dough into strips, fill it, fold it and them gently roll it thinner & cut out different shapes or just use the dough to make thumbprint style fig cookies. Use your imagination, that’s what this time of year is all about, isn’t it?

I sprinkled some orange sugar on each cookie before baking (black sugar would work well too!), and then when they were cooled, I stacked ‘em up and stuck in some cute little labels; similar to cupcake toppers I guess. I created them myself in Photoshop and have oh-so-kindly prepared & uploaded a .PDF file for your use, should you wish to use them for your own fiendish fig cookies. All I ask is that if you post them on your website or blog, please give credit where it’s due. If you have any questions or trouble with the PDF & you desperately want to use it, e-mail me & I’ll see if I can help you out.

Otherwise… enjoy eating your fiendish fig cookies. Eat them before they eat you, or serve them to your favorite vampire.

Image courtesy of the wonderful HBO

*ahem* Oh, wow, how did that picture get there? Ha. Okay, last week in my Halloween compilation post, I mentioned I’d be sharing Halloween legends & their Celtic origins in detail this year. And so, here’s a scary little vampire tale for you to kick things off, in keeping with the season:

Did you ever hear of the Irish Vampire “Dearg Due”? No, not the infamous Dracula who was created by an Irishman named Bram Stoker but a true Irish Vampire that haunts central Ireland. The very name, Dearg-due means “red blood sucker” in Irish. She is a fiend that seduces men with her beauty and then sucks them dry of their blood.

Ancient Celtic folklore speaks of an Irish girl well known through the Irish countryside for her great beauty. To her father’s fierce dismay she fell helplessly in love with a poor local peasant. Her father condemned their love and arrange for her to marry a wealthy business man who was anything but nice to her. So angry with her father and distraught by her plight she committed suicide.

Legend said she was laid to rest near Strongbow’s Tree in Waterford. On one cold, windy Irish night she rose from her shallow grave. She then hunted her domineering father and abusive husband and sought her vengeance by sucking their bodies dry of blood until they took their last breathe and died.

From such evil acts she will eternally be known as Dearg-due. The Red Blood Sucker Vampire who is forever dammed to rise once a year and to use her beauty to lure men to their deaths.

-source The Irish Jewelry Company

 

Now bring us some figgy pudding, & bring some out here!

So, if you’re like me, that line from We Wish You a Merry Christmas always made you giggle as a kid. I mean, I’m sure most of us, especially us Yankees here in America, have asked ourselves at one point or another: “What the hell is a figgy pudding, exactly?”

Figgy pudding is a pudding resembling something like a white Christmas pudding containing figs. The pudding may be baked, steamed in the oven, boiled or fried.[1]

The history of figgy pudding dates back to 16th century England.[2] Its possible ancestors include savory puddings such as crustades, fygeye or figge (a potage of mashed figs thickened with bread), creme boiled (a kind of stirred custard), and sippets. In any case, its methods and ingredients appear in diverse older recipes. Today, the term figgy pudding is known mainly because of the Christmas carolWe Wish You A Merry Christmas,” which repeats, “Oh bring us a figgy pudding” in the chorus, indicating that it was a Christmas traditional dish served during the season and thus might potentially be given to Christmas carolers.

Well, us Americans have a different concept of “pudding” than the Brits do; our idea of pudding is Jello instant pudding, or the pudding cups you bring to school in your lunch bag as a kid, or even a homemade pudding made with cornstarch and heavy cream, but regardless, all three have the consistency of what the English call “custard.” Over there, in jolly old England, pudding is more like a cake. Sticky toffee pudding, figgy pudding, spotted dick- they’re all more like our idea of fruitcake or rum cake. Oh! Speaking of England, the wonderful Nancy from The Inky Kitchen recently was kind enough to send me a package of some British candy not easily found here in the States: Galaxy Ripple and Cadbury Flake! We do have specialty stores that sell British candy, but it’s sort of hit or miss. You never know what they’re going to have, and since the turnover isn’t very high, sometimes it can be old & sitting there awhile. Needless to say I tore into those pretty quickly. And of course, in turn, I sent her two packages of candy not available over there; Candy Cane Hershey’s Kisses and Mint Truffle Hershey’s Kisses. What a nice Christmas present to get, right? Thank you so much Nancy. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas Hershey’s Kisses! I certainly enjoyed the ones you sent (and my mother loved the Ripple!). And just so you know, her blog, The Inky Kitchen, is great- awesome content and I love the artwork- so I suggest you take a look.

Upon learning last December that Cupcake Royale makes a figgy pudding cupcake, I decided to tackle the concept myself this year. Although mine is quite different- no chocolate chunks, no cocoa powder. Mine is more like a traditional figgy pudding in the sense that it’s a spice cake with molasses & buttermilk, with figs and walnuts in it. Traditionally, I’ve seen pictures of it topped with a sort of confectioner’s sugar glaze or icing, or a heavier creamier icing, usually poured on top and allowed to drip down the sides. I decided to use a regular frosting on them, instead of doing a glaze, but I added a little something extra to it. I made them as a sort of “gift” for my mother & father. This time of year I’m always making baked goods & giving them away. So this time it’s figgy pudding. I brought them some figgy pudding, and brought it right here!

“I am a wee figgy pudding… eat me!”

Full recipe makes around 18, if you halve it you’ll get 8 or 9 depending on your methods (whether you use a whole egg or take one egg, beat it in a bowl, and use half). If you do halve it, then DEFINITELY halve the buttercream (if you like really tall mounds of frosting) or quarter it, or else you’ll end up with tons left over. The full recipe makes 4 cups, so you do the math. I halved both recipes, and piled the frosting pretty high and still ended up with enough frosting left over for a good 5 cupcakes, so if you halve the cupcake recipe, you might actually want to quarter the frosting recipe. Unless you like having brandy buttercream in the freezer for later… hmm, I wonder if that’s where they got the idea for alcoholic whipped cream from?

FIGGY PUDDING CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon*
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg*
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups dried figs, stemmed and chopped fine
*optional

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and lemon zest; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Beat in figs and walnuts until combined thoroughly.
  2. Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely. Frost after completely cooled.

ITALIAN MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM FLAVORED WITH BRANDY

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 5 large egg whites
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon brandy

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and 2/3 cup water to a boil. Continue boiling until syrup reaches 238° degrees on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage).
  2. Meanwhile, place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat on medium-high speed until stiff but not dry; do not overbeat.
  3. With mixer running, add syrup to whites in a stream, beating on high speed until no longer steaming, about 3 minutes. Add butter bit by bit, beating until spreadable, 3 to 5 minutes; beat in vanilla, then the brandy. If icing curdles, keep beating until smooth. Don’t be alarmed if the frosting gets “slippery” in the bowl; that’s from the alcohol. It’ll pipe just fine.
Seriously… check out that buttercream…


Gorgeous.

Depending on the taste you’re looking for, you can start off with less or just add more brandy until you feel it’s got the right flavor, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to use too much. Using a dark rum would also work if you’re not a brandy person. If you’re not a drinker or never have alcohol in the house, some brandy extract or rum extract would be nice, or just plain ol’ vanilla too. I also added some little holly branches and berries on top to make it more traditional-looking (and a big thanks to Yoyo for my surprise Christmas cupcake package that those toppers & liners were included in).

If you prefer to make them look more like traditional figgy pudding, you can make a brandy sauce, and then dip the tops of each cupcake (after they’re cooled) into the sauce. Obviously, I didn’t use it, but because I’m really sweet and it’s the holiday season, I’m going to give you the recipe for a brandy sauce.

BRANDY SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter, very soft
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup brandy

Directions:

  1. Beat egg white in the bowl of a stand mixer until stiff.
  2. Add sugar, egg yolk, whipping cream, butter.
  3. Stir in brandy. Dip cooled cupcakes into sauce.

If you’ve never given baked goods as gifts before, it’s a great idea. First of all, for someone who’s hard to buy for or who has everything, baking them something they love or something they would love is a fantastic idea. Anyone who bakes from scratch or knows what it’s like to do so would appreciate a homemade, delicious, from the heart cake/cupcakes/bread/etc. And baking a Christmas-themed baked good is an even better idea; that way, when the person you give it to is entertaining they can serve it. Especially if they can’t bake themselves. Or they can just eat it all themselves, which I wholly endorse.

In honor of the season, I’d like to share with you my favorite Christmas commercial ever since I was a child. Seven days ’til Christmas- happy baking, eating, shopping and gifting!

And before you go, did you enjoy my interview with Pamela Ahn, contestant on The Next Great Baker? If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? Go check it out, it’s the post right below this one.