Monday, November 22, 2010

Fig & cream cheese bars

While people all over the US are in a baking, cooking, organizing frenzy for Thanksgiving, here Christmas is on its way. This morning, as I was riding my bike through Piazza Duomo, I was pleasantly surprised to see they had lit up the big Christmas tree to test the lights. It is still pitch black at 7am and the effect of the illuminated white marble Duomo and golden Madonnina statue on its highest spire and the hundreds of lights on the majestic tree in front of it were enough to make me momentarily catch my breath and feel that first tingle of excitement that accompanies me throughout December. Despite the torrential rain and floods pretty much all over the country on the week end, I noticed people had been at work putting up Christmas lights to decorate the streets. They were still off, but they were hanging in their more sober attire in the shadows, patiently waiting to turn into Cinderella at the ball.

As is traditional in Italy, the stores and supermarkets have started putting copious amounts of frutta secca, dried fruit, on display. Frutta secca not only includes fruit, preponderantly dates and figs in all versions (stuffed with nuts, covered in chocolate, plain); it also comprises all the members of the nut family (walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, cashews etc.). I couldn't help buying a few bags of dates and figs recently and wanted to bake with them, something I hadn't done yet.

This dessert can be made for your Thanksgiving feast or you can file away the recipe for your Christmas holidays.

It is reminiscent of fig newtons, but the cream cheese topping adds a whole new dimension. The bars got better and better with the passing of time, so I actually suggest making them a day or two ahead, perfect when you are hosting a large gathering and want to prepare early. I also personally think you can skip adding sugar to the fig filling, as it is sweet enough from the rich honey flavor of the dried fruits, and you can also play around with it, soaking the figs in alcohol for a more grown up version or in juice if you want to add an interesting note.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (I only used all purpose flour)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
vegetable oil
2 cups dried figs, stems removed
1 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided into 1/4 and 1/4
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 tsp powdered sugar

Combine flour, brown sugar and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture firmly into a 13 x 9-inch greased baking dish and place in fridge.
Combine figs, water and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 5 minutes or until figs are tender and sugar dissolves and let cool. Place fig mixture and juice in a blender or process with a hand blender until smooth. Spread fig mixture over prepared and chilled crust.
Preheat oven to 350° C. Place remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cheese, vanilla, and egg in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer until smooth. Pour over fig mixture. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until set and lightly browned. Cool in pan on a wire rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into bars. Should make about 30.


*Just in case you are wondering, the sleepover went really well. My daughter had a great time, just as I had imagined, and only asked for us once. We survived it and feel like we have made a step forward in parenting!


  1. Oh YUM! You've outdone yourself with this one. I love the addition of cream cheese as well. It gives it just a hint of decadence.

    I'm so looking forward to the Christmas lights going up over here as well. It's one of my favorite parts about the holidays!

  2. Looks delicious! I can hardly wait to switch gears into Christmas-time cooking! (And kudos for bike-riding at the crack of dawn! Those kinds of moments are the best!)

  3. Julie - I feel like I needed a little more of that cream cheese topping but my pan sized are European so not always accurate. Thanks for the pretzel offer: I will take it up one day when you tell me about something you need from Italy. We can send exchange packages!
    UrMomCooks - Sometimes people think I am crazy to bike to work in the dark and cold early winter mornings, but they are truly quiet, special moments all to myself. And the noisy, bustling big city is a different place. Also I am lucky enough to ride right through the historical center, no cars, so this adds to the beauty.

  4. I love figs and do not eat them nearly enough! These look great and like a great holiday dessert to add to the table!

    We're traveling right now - but the second we get home those lights are going up! :)Oh and the music will be non-stop! (Peanuts Christmas Soundtrack!)

  5. I bet this was one yummy treat! I love the layers of flavors here and can't wait to try this one out soon!

  6. How delicious! I love dried figs in Christmas recipes, but the cream cheese topping makes these really special. Love the contrasts of textures in this recipe.

  7. I am going to try this fig recipe instead of cucidati this year. The cream cheese takes it to a whole other level. Looks great!

  8. D,D&W - Yeah, dried figs are so satisfying and healthy too. And I know what you mean, I can't wait to start playing our Dean Martin & Co. Xmas CD. Enjoy your trip and family.
    Peggy - It certainly is a different take on the usual bar.
    Karen - This bar certainly has character and texture, you either love it or you don't, if you know what I mean.
    Kelly - What is cucidati? I would love to hear more about it.

  9. In Holland there are Christmas decorations everywhere and we're expecting the first snow this week. This dessert would be the perfect accompaniment to a snow filled weekend!

  10. this looks amaizing! thanks for sharing this.

  11. Same in Lebanon the holiday season sees an abundance of dried fruits being displayed and of course in addition to all the Arabic sweets all the confectionary stores make the obligatory " marrons glacés"
    so I love figs and your creation has intrigued me; looks like it would not be too hard to put together, yum!

  12. Wow, I love the look of this. Its chock full of such delicious ingredients that I know the finished product has got to be awesome. This would make a great addition to any holiday table!
    *kisses* HH

  13. MyLEK - Hope you had a lovely, white week end!
    BBKD - Hope they surprise you as much as they surprised me.
    Taste of Beirut - Couldn't be easier! It probably works with dates too...Don't even start me on marrons glacés...
    HH - it is a great little treat you can prepare in advance to make life easier.


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