How to Make Gluten-Free Fig Bars

20140515-292896-GFTues-Fig Newtons 514.jpg
Lightly scented with orange, these delicious fig-bars have a tender cookie coating and flavorful dried-fig filling. Elizabeth Barbone

Social media is weird. The other day a photo of Fig Newtons, of all things, came across my Facebook feed. A friend captioned it with, My snack says I'm turning into my grandmother! Looking at that photo, I realized that I missed Fig Newtons. The craving caught me a little by surprise because I hadn't really thought about them since switching to a gluten-free diet. Suddenly enticed, I thought I'd enjoy making my own gluten-free batch.

Honestly, they turned out to be rather tough to replicate.

My first attempt was dreadful. The outer cookie, made of a simple mixture of gluten-free flours and butter, came out like pie crust. It was really flaky instead of tender and cakey.

The filling, which I cooked for several hours, tasted bland. It boggled my mind that a filling made from flavorful figs could be so dull and mild! Yet this filling, made from chopped mission figs, water, and brown sugar, was just that.

Clearly I needed to rethink the entire recipe.

First up: the cookie. Since Fig Newtons are cakey, I added eggs to the dough, along with a little leavening, which my first batch didn't contain. For the filling, I went in the opposite direction by not cooking it at all—I simply puréed dried mission figs with a little water and corn syrup.

The second batch turned out much closer to the real deal, but it was still a little off. The cookie felt too fatty and while filling tasted sweet, it still had no real depth.

To address these problems, I reduced the amount of butter in the cookie and replaced half the granulated sugar with dark brown sugar to boost the flavor and add some moisture. I also added a little orange oil, since I remembered Fig Newtons having a subtle citrus note. For the filling, I again puréed the dried figs, but this time I added freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little salt.

The cookie baked beautifully, while the lemon juice and salt boosted the flavor of the filling without competing with the figs. But there was still one problem: the outer cookie tasted too buttery.

Commercial Fig Newtons don't taste like butter, so for the final batch, I used shortening instead of butter. That simple swap made a big difference. At long last, the cookies tasted just like the Fig Newtons I remembered.

And even though I finally perfected the recipe, I still needed to wait before enjoying them, since both the flavor and texture improve after an overnight rest. Following a technique from Bravetart's homemade fig newton recipe, I transferred the warm cookies into a sealed container, allowing them to steam slightly. After all that work, I wondered if the fig newtons were worth it. Then I bit into one and got my answer: in this case, there's nothing better than turning into your grandmother.