Figs and dates sweeten winter treats

December 22, 2014

Chocolate-dipped figs served with fresh berries.

When I was growing up in the 1950s we would celebrate every holiday with my grandparents at their home. The routine never changed — it always started with a table full of family favorites. It was ham for Easter, turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and, whatever the occasion, pasta.

Our desserts were mainly fruit-based. My grandparents had a fig tree in their backyard, right beside the chicken coop. We had fresh figs in the summer but by October my grandfather was covering the tree with leaves and brush to protect it from the cold. In the winter he would buy dried figs and dates to eat as a snack. The figs were attached to a string and we just "picked" one as we walked past. For the holidays my grandmother would make a deep-fried cookie filled with mashed dates (no one pureed anything back then) and chocolate. They were delicious.

I’m sure my grandmother would have loved these fig and date recipes. The Fresh Fig Pizzette Bar, which allows guests to make their own fruit "pizzas," is an especially fun idea for the holidays.


This idea (from "Indulge" by Kathy Wakile from the reality show, "Housewives of New Jersey") is perfect for holiday entertaining. It’s a buffet of assorted fresh fruit, nuts, cheese and spreads and homemade pizzas (pizzettes) to put it all on. You will find the recipe for pizzette and a recipe for Infused Honey Syrup from the cookbook. For the my pizzette topping, I used dried figs instead of fresh ones (they’re not in season) and used navel oranges instead of Valencia, but you could use whatever fruit you like. Simply top the pastry base with fruit, nuts and cheese and then drizzle with the syrup.

Rustica Pastry for Pizzette

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

7 ounces (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

2 large egg yolks, 1 white reserved for egg wash

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon orange extract

2 tablespoons cold water, plus more as needed

Combine flour, sugar, salt, butter, and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a standard blade. Pulse 8 to 10 times, or just until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal with some pea-sized clumps of butter. Add egg yolks, vanilla and orange extract, and 2 tablespoons of the cold water; pulse a few more times to combine. Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, and continue pulsing just until the dough begins to form large lumps.

Pat the dough into 2 disks, wrap it tightly, and chill it in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Note: The dough can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator overnight or up to 3 days before using. If it chills for more than an hour, it will be very stiff; let sit at room temperature about 20 minutes to soften.

To make the pizzette:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a smooth, lightly floured work surface, roll out 1 disk of dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper to a thickness of between 1/8 and 1/4 inch. Use a 3-1/2 inch cutter to cut about 18 rounds, rerolling scraps as needed. Set the rounds on the prepared baking sheets, spacing the rounds, about ½ inch apart, and use a fork to pierce each round all over. Repeat with the second disk.

Beat the reserved egg white with 1 teaspoon water. Lightly brush the rounds with egg wash and sprinkle with the sugar. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Note: The rounds can be double-wrapped in plastic and frozen up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature before baking.

From: "Indulge: Delicious Little Desserts That Keep Life Real Sweet" by Kathy Wakile (St. Martin’s Griffin, Sept. 2014, $26.99)


3/4 cup honey

3 cinnamon sticks

2 star anise

2 cloves

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice from 2 to 3 oranges (one reserved from zesting)

To infuse the honey, combine honey, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook gently over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the honey to cool and infuse at least 1 hour.

To make the honey syrup, use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the spices from the infused honey, then add the orange zest and juice to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then lower the heat and continue simmering until the syrup is thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 20 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let the syrup cool to room temperature.

The syrup can be made a day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

From: "Indulge: Delicious Little Desserts That Keep Life Real Sweet" by Kathy Wakile (St. Martin’s Griffin; Sept. 2014, $26.99)


I used dried bay leaves and placed them in the baking dish with the wine and extra zest. I removed the bay leaves before serving.

12 dried figs

Zest of 1 orange, removed in large strips with a vegetable peeler

6 fresh bay leaves

1/2 cup almonds

1/2 cup sweet wine

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut a small horizontal slit in each fig, being careful not to cut all the way through. Cut orange zest into a dozen 1-inch long pieces, and tear or cut each bay leaf in half. Stuff each fig with 1 piece orange zest, half of a bay leaf and 1 almond.

Pack the stuffed figs into a small baking dish that will hold them in a snug, even layer. Scatter over any additional almonds and any extra orange zest if you’re left with some.

Pour the wine evenly over the figs, place another baking dish over the figs to weigh them down, and press firmly to really get the figs quite flat and saturated with the wine. Place the whole thing, including the second baking dish, into the oven and bake 20 minutes.

Serve figs hot, warm, or at room temperature, alongside just about any cheese.

Serves 4.

From: "Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food" by Jody Williams (Hachette, 2014, $30)


These cakes are luscious especially with a dab of freshly whipped cream.

For the date cakes:

1/2 pound Medjool dates, pitted (approximately 12 to 13)

1 3/4 cups water

3 tablespoons instant espresso powder

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

3/4 cup light brown sugar

4 eggs, room temperature

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the coffee glaze:

2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coffee liqueur

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium sauce pan, combine dates, water, espresso powder, vanilla bean, cardamom, and salt. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover and steep 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar on low speed. With mixer still going, add eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl and making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Sift together flour and baking soda and add to the butter mixture in increments, 1/3 at a time. Stop mixer, scrape down, turn the mixer back on low, and add in the cooled date puree. You want it just incorporated — don’t over mix.

Place 8 3-inch cylindrical paper molds on a baking sheet. Fill with the batter only a little more than halfway — it rises quite a bit. Bake 25 to 30 minutes on the center rack in the oven, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove and place on a rack to cool.

For the coffee glaze:

Bring all ingredients up to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 3 to 4 minutes, until the glaze is thick and a bit syrupy. Glaze cakes while the glaze and the cakes are still hot.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yields 8 3-inch cakes.

From: "Exotic Table: Flavors, Inspiration, and Recipes from Around the World — to Your Kitchen" by Aliya Leekong (Adams, 2013)


These are easy and especially tasty with the combination of chocolate, marshmallow and nuts. I couldn’t find large figs so I used small pieces of walnuts instead of whole walnuts.

20 large dried California figs

1/4 cup miniature marshmallows

20 walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup semisweet or white chocolate

Cut a slit in the side of each fig and stuff with a marshmallow and a nut. Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler over simmering water, stirring until smooth and satiny (do not boil). Remove from heat. Holding by stem, dip figs halfway into chocolate. Allow excess chocolate to drip. Place figs on wax paper until the chocolate sets. Store in airtight container, separating layers with wax paper.




McClatchy-Tribune Information Services