Have you ever eaten figgy pudding? I haven’t – yet the dessert is part of a classic Christmas song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” believed to date back to 16th-century England.
“Oh bring us a figgy pudding,
“Oh bring us a figgy pudding,
“Oh bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer.”
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Then the carolers threaten their listeners: “We won’t go until we get some …”
This extortion-worthy holiday dessert is, I learned, rather like moist fruitcake, with dried figs and other fruit, bread crumbs, plenty of spices and some orange peel for zest. Also alcohol. It takes two hours or so to bake in a water bath. Hard sauce is often the topping when it’s served. Or you can serve it aflame.
And as I was poking around looking for this year’s Cookie Corner recipes, I ran across one on the Food52 website for figgy pudding butter cookies, created by an Austin, Texas, woman who signs herself only Helenthenanny.
Food52 is one of my favorite online food sites, with feature stories, a shopping area (pricey but beautiful) and many, many recipes, including the “genius recipes” that inspired the recent cookbook. Readers/members can establish their own recipe collections and submit original recipes to the site’s various contests.
Helen’s figgy pudding cookies won a “your best holiday cookie” contest on the site, which is a great recommendation.
But I’m sure the brandy glaze on the cookies puts them out of reach of her young charges.
Not too sweet, they are an adult cookie, and a lot easier to make than figgy pudding itself. No flames, I promise.
Figgy pudding butter cookies
Makes 3 dozen (or more)
Adapted from Helenthenanny’s recipe on Food52.com. Note: Dough needs to chill 2 hours before rolling.
For the cookies:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 to 10 large dried Turkish or Caliymirna figs (the light brown ones)
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon orange zest
For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whisk together the flour, salt, nutmeg and and cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.
Dice figs into small chunks and put them in a small saucepan with the milk. Heat on low, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.
Put 1 1/2 sticks of softened butter in a large bowl. With an electric mixer, mix on medium-high until the butter is fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Sift 3/4 cup of confectioners sugar (I use a mesh strainer) into the fluffy butter and mix until smooth. Add in the egg and reduce speed to low.
Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
Strain the figs from the milk. Add them, along with the orange zest, to the dough. Fold in until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.
After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough until it is 1/8-inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spaced 1 inch apart. (They don’t spread.) Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.
While the cookies are baking, combine all the ingredients for the glaze in a saucepan on medium-low heat, and stir often, until the sauce comes together. After the cookies have cooled, use a fork to drizzle the warm glaze on them.
Testing and tasting
▪ I used kitchen shears to cut the figs into chunks – much easier than chopping with a knife.
▪ The Food52 note on the recipe advised squeezing as much liquid as possible out of the soaked figs, so don’t worry if it seems like a lot of fig gets drained off along with the milk.
▪ If the dough warms up while rolling, pop it in the freezer for a minute or two to firm it up.
▪ Even though I measured the height of the dough, I probably rolled this cookie thinner than Helenthenanny did (one taster even said they were too thin) because I got nearly 5 dozen cookies out of the recipe. But I do like the fact that they seemed like buttery, slightly fruity crackers (note the lack of a leavener), just without the big crunch. Ideally, these could go alongside a wedge of cheese and a glass of sherry or port.
▪ If you don’t have or want to use brandy in the glaze, substitute 1/2 teaspoon orange extract or another 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.
▪ Most of the newsroom testers liked these cookies. “Awesome, just the right amount of sweet.” “Nice chewy texture.” “ ‘Figgy’ filling very good, but light.” “Lovely holiday flavor.” “Wonderful – I’ll never eat another Fig Newton, these are so much better. (The icing is a nice touch.).” “Really good! One of the best things I’ve had here!” A few dissenting voices: “Not a fig person.” “OK.” “Need chocolate to dip in.”