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
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
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!