Family Recipes: heritage, tradition, honor, prestige. And let us not forget: stains of butter and spilled vanilla extract, and of course, your grandmother's illegible cursive.
All of this combines into a cookie that is both exciting and daunting to bake, as if you are exhuming something long buried in the past that may or may not respond favorably to your waking it from its decades of resting.
These cute and dainty fig turnover cookies stir up nostalgic feelings for the simpler time of the 1950s, originating from my grandmother's 1953 Betty Crocker Cookbook. Over the years, Gma made several additions and changes to the recipe that she marked in the margins of this recipe and eventually tore out from its binding to preserve in a plastic page protector.
That is how important this cookie is.
I revived it from its 30 year slumber in a recipe box to add to this year's plate of Christmas cookies. But, by the way it turned out, I think it would have preferred to stay sleeping.
I forgot the orange zest in the filling; the dough was one of those clingy boyfriend types that just didn't know how to let go; the figs left sticky gum all over my knife; the turnovers were too crispy after being baked; they spread like pancakes all over the pan.
Still, with age they improved. Surprisingly, after a day or two of sitting in a cookie tin, the dough became softer, and the filling a bit more vibrant.
Yet, I can't help thinking how much easier it would have been to just buy a package of Fig Newtons. Gma probably didn't have that option 60 years ago though.
I imagine her cooking down the dried figs, sugar, and water in a pan over her retro stove. I wonder if non-stick pans even existed then?
She would carefully roll out the dough (maybe after stealing a bite of the fig filling with a big silver spoon), and place a generous amount on her cutouts, pinching them closed with the tines of a fork.
She would seal them in a decorative Christmas tin, flowing with wax paper, ready to share with her family, or sneak one out for a midnight snack.
Eating a slightly tastier Fig Newton cannot compare to baking and eating the same cookie my grandmother first made nearly 60 years ago from one of her first cookbooks. And even with all of the recipe mishaps, as my Mom says, "I still like them."
Recipe adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook (1953)
Yield: about 54 cookies
3/4 cup Crisco
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 Tb heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
2 cups dried figs, finely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
grated orange peel, to taste
Cream together Crisco, and sugar. Add eggs, heavy cream, and vanilla extract to mixture.
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Combine with first mixture and chill dough in a covered bowl for about an hour in the refrigerator.
In the meantime, combine all filling ingredients in a saucepan over medium to high heat. Stir constantly until mixture thickens. Allow filling to cool completely.
Roll dough about 1/8" to 1/16" thick and cut into 2" to 3" circles, placing 1" apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet. If dough is too wet, add more flour until it reaches a good rolling consistency. The more flour that is added, the less the cookies will spread out when baked.
Place filling on one side of each cutout. Fold and seal the dough with the tines of a fork dipped in flour.
Brush tops of turnovers with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 400 deg. F. for 8-10 minutes or until tops of turnovers are lightly golden. Remove immediately and cool on a wire rack.