THIS week, after last week’s foray out onto the patio barbecue, umbrella in hand, we return to the warm and dry kitchen for a bit of baking.
This week I had a hankering for making biscuits, and preferably a home-made version of one of the old classics, like a Bourbon or a Custard Cream.
Last summer, if you remember, we made jammy dodgers, and they proved very successful.
I still fancy a go at custard creams, as they’re one of my all-time favourites, but a root through the cupboard found me holding a large bag of luscious dried figs and instantly I knew that I had to have a go at making some fig rolls, one of my tea-time favourites.
Let us consider the fig. Well, it’s certainly been around for a while. You only have to look at Adam and Eve’s underwear selection to see that the fig has been around for quite a while.
It is mentioned in the sacred texts of most major religions including Buddhism and Islam. You don’t see the raspberry or the banana mentioned so much, so the fig clearly requires respect.
Grown mainly in the hotter, drier parts of the world such as the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East, the common fig has evolved into many cultivars, from the smaller green Alma, through the popular Kadota (where most of your fig rolls come from) to the supreme Black Mission fig, grown almost exclusively these days in California, with its sweetly-perfumed flesh and jet black coat.
I love them all, whether they’re the super fresh fruit, with their frail, dusky skins, wrapped like precious jewels in lilac tissue paper, or the semi-dried chewy, sticky treats that make any Christmas cake a joy to munch.
There’s a lovely textural thing happening inside a fig, with the smooth, unctuous flesh against the pleasantly crunchy seeds, along with that unmistakable, musky flavour that intensifies as the figs dry out.
Fresh figs, simply sliced, still sun-warmed, make a perfect accompaniment to Iberico or Parma ham, perhaps even better than the more usual melon; I suggest you try it once, especially now, as they’re just coming into season. It’s a revelation.
A few chopped dried figs can be stirred into a roasting gravy or stock sauce to enliven a game dish, perhaps along with a little rosemary. The two flavours seem to work together so well.
Figs are great with lamb, too; the muskiness of the fig seems to work well with the sweetness of well-aged lamb meat.
Or perhaps just enjoy the simplicity of fresh ripe figs, split and baked with a little honey and cinnamon in the oven, along with a spoonful of ice-cold Greek yoghurt. A perfect cool summer evening dessert. But we’re here to bake, and must get started on our rolls.
The fig roll biscuit is a lovely combination of sweet shortcrust-like pastry enveloping a smooth paste of dried figs, and our grown-up version adds a little spice to the proceedings, but it’s essentially the same recipe.
Easy to make, and far better than the shop-bought version. Aprons on!
For the pastry:
125g butter, softened
75g unrefined golden icing sugar, plus a little extra for dusting
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large free-range fresh egg yolk
200g plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
For the filling:
250g soft semi-dried figs
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
A splash of port or sweet sherry
A pinch of ground mixed spice
Preheat the oven to 150°C / Gas 2.
Finely chop the figs and heat gently with the lemon juice, the port and the spice, until very soft, then blend to a smooth paste.
Allow to cool completely.
Beat the butter, icing sugar and vanilla in a food mixer or with a hand mixer, until the mixture is light, pale and creamy.
Beat in the egg yolk, incorporating it fully, then add the flour and bring together to a soft dough. You may need to add a little more flour.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and roll the out into a 30x20cm rectangle, then cut in half lengthways.
Carefully spoon the fig paste down the middle of the pastry lengths, making sure it’s distributed in an equal thick ‘sausage’ which will make all the biscuits look the same.
Fold the dough over the filling and gently roll over so the join is on the underside.
Smooth the surface, rubbing away any cracks, then repeat the process with the second piece of dough.
Cut each roll into 8 pieces (or you could make smaller or larger ones if you like) and gently indent the tops with a large fork.
Place the rolls on a baking sheet, spacing them slightly apart, and chill for half an hour. Bake for 30-40 minutes until pale gold in colour and set.
Cool completely and dust with icing sugar to serve