Cook the Book: St. Joseph's Fig Cookies

"The dough has a great sweet crunch and none of the mushiness you associate with fig cookies."

[Photograph: Caroline Russock]

New Orleans is a town that knows how to celebrate. You've heard all about Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, but My New Orleans by John Besh will teach you about another unique festival.

St. Joseph's Day falls on March 19 and is the feast day for St. Joseph, the patron saint of cabinetmakers, engineers, Canada, and confectioners among other things. As a traditionally Sicilian celebration, St. Joseph's Day made its was to southern Louisiana by way of Italian immigrants in the early 19th century, then widely adopted by the New Orleans community.

Being the patron saint of confectioners, St. Joseph has inspired citywide parades and celebration with copious amounts of sweets. These St. Joseph's Fig Cookies are about as Sicilian as you can get: a sweet filling of figs, ground nuts, and dried fruit, and, this being New Orleans—where sweet delicious cookies apparently aren't enough on their own—they're finished with vanilla icing and festive colored sprinkles.

Any saint's day that involves baking and eating lots of cookies is just fine by me but not being a big fan of the Fig Newton, I was wondering how these little cookies would compare.

The figginess is there but in a much less cloying and sticky way. It's nicely combined with sherry, orange, lemon, raisins, and walnuts, all of which complement the figs perfectly. The dough has a great sweet crunch and none of the mushiness you associate with fig cookies.

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Cook the Book: St. Joseph's Fig Cookies

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About This Recipe

Yield:about 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • For the filling:
  • 3 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup dried figs, stems removed
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup shelled walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 dash ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • For the dough:
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, diced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • For the icing:
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Colored sprinkles

Procedures

  1. 1

    Bring the sherry and the orange juice just to a boil in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, put the figs, raisins, walnuts, honey, cinnamon, and lemon zest into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are very finely chopped.

  2. 2

    Pour the sherry mixture through the feed tube of the food processor and continue processing the fig mixture to a finely chopped paste.

  3. 3

    Using a rubber spatula, scrape the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip, or, instead of using a pastry bag, put the filling into a bowl, cover, and set aside.

  4. 4

    Sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles cornmeal. Stir in the eggs and milk, mixing until the dough is well combined.

  5. 5

    Divide the dough in half. Roll each piece through the smooth cylinders of a pasta machine, decreasing the setting, one notch at a time, until each sheet is about 1⁄8 inch thick and about 4 inches wide. Cut each sheet in half lengthwise so that you have 4 long, narrow strips of dough. Or, instead of a pasta machine, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into 2 long strips 1⁄8 inch thick and about 4 inches wide. Cut the strips in half lengthwise.

  6. 6

    Use the pastry bag or a spoon to pipe or spoon a quarter of the filling down the middle of each strip of dough. Using a pastry brush, moisten the dough with water on either side of the filling. Roll the dough over the filling, completely enclosing the filling, then gently press on the seam to seal the dough.

  7. 7

    Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the pastry logs seam side down and slice them on the bias into cookies about an inch long. Place the cookies at least ½ inch apart on nonstick cookie sheets and bake until pale golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Set the cookies on a rack to let cool.

  8. 8

    Whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla in a wide bowl.

  9. 9

    Dip the top of each cookie into the icing, then scatter sprinkles over the tops.

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