Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fig Cookies and a Challenge

May has arrived and I've begun to detect  a whiff of birthday in the air. When others might step out into a spring day to be rushed with aromas of grass and open flowers, I am smacked with the smell of birthday. I used to smell track meet but I've since grown out of of track meets, but each spring my younger self was ambushed by nerves and excitement. The nervous sensation is lessening as gardens and bike trips replace running races but the promise of a birthday still manages to get me buzzing. Last year I spent June third, the all important day, biking San Juan Island. This year I've got my tires pointed towards Saltspring Island. Planning is definitely part of the fun. So is remembering, which makes me think of one of my best birthday memories.
Mom says my birthday is always nice. The year I turned six was hot, hot enough for shorts and bathing suits on June third, which isn't always the case. I remember Mom and Auntie Wiena tying up balloons around the picnic table. I'm helping with napkins or cups or something I can manage. Today is my first 'school' birthday. I'm old enough to have classmates over rather than the previous ritual of mom's friends and their children. There will be a cake. It's inside and I haven't seen it yet but Mom and Brent and Haley were up late last night slathering icing over the passenger cars and the locomotive, and lining the edges with candy.

I've already got my suit on under my shorts and t-shirts (I'll have to take it off and lend it to Rebecca K. who forgot hers and I'll change into my second-best. This is a little upsetting but surmountable.) A slip and slide waits beside the wading pool on the back lawn.

We are nearly finished. Guest will soon arrive. The sound of a car in the cauld-a-sack and my best-friend for the year rounds the corner. Her large round face is flushed by the heat and the effort of walking with the gigantic inflatable duck squeezed around her cutely-chubby middle. I'm surprised that Laura, her nanny, let her make the trip around the side of the house alone.

It is then that Angie demands to see the pool and Mom and Wiena's suppressed giggles burst into laughter. I join them. I'm not sure, yet, exactly why this is funny; in later years, I'll understand the effect of this sweating, chubby, rich girl anticipating a pool in our modest backyard. But for now I am six, Angie is here and she brought a duck, there are balloons, candy is coming, so are more friends, and gifts, and lots of sun and blue sky. There is a chair at the end of the table. From the chair hangs a sign. The sign reads, 'Happy Birthday, Rachel.' What could be happier?

It was Mom who made those signs. She hung the balloons (ALWAYS balloons) mixed up two cakes, one for the friend party and one for the family part, plus a giant batch of cupcakes or rice crispy squares to be dished up to the class. She shopped, bought gifts, planned games, and then cleaned up after it all. I always assumed she enjoyed the whole shebang. I seem to remember her smiling and orchestrating people and events. But now when I think about it (the signs, and the balloons, and the baking, and the shopping, and the hot dogs) this seems less certain. She was probably stressed, and tired, and ready for the whole thing to be over before it began. I'm certain this is true. Just as I'm certain that our pleasure (Haley's, Brent's, mine's, Carmen's) in the slip and slide, the street hockey, or foam pit at Falcons Gymnastics made the whole rigmarole worthwhile.

Naturally my siblings and I have adopted the whole thing about birthdays. We make a fuss. We call each other and leave high-pitched renditions of 'the song' on the celebrated one's voice mail. We throw parties. I lavish Caleb with birthday love by hosting a dinner party, involving a table laden with ancient Christmas candles. This December eighth ritual has since bee cryptically named, The Burning. It's really quite fun and not at all creepy. Check out what Haley did for her Princess Coby. Birthdays are silly. But in the strangeness of the rituals of sugar and balloons it becomes easier than other days to say, you are special, you are loved.

Anyhow, it's almost May and after that comes June and three days into the month I'll have songs on my voice mail and some sort of cake and hopefully chocolate... But better than chocolate would be a certain batch of cookies. When I turned six, mom didn't make the treat I marched proudly into the kindergarten class. Grandma did. The treat was cookies. And the cookies were Dutch. They consisted of a flat biscuit-type cookie, topped by a heavenly icing (or mousse?), which was then topped by hard chocolate and capped with a smartie. I don't know how to spell the name of these cookies. But Haley, my sister and fellow blogger, I'm certain you do. You were older and probably got to eat more of these than I ever did. And so I am tossing out this challenge to you: find the spelling and find the recipe. The sooner the better, but at least complete the task before June third.

I made these this weekend and they're my favourite cookie besides the aforementioned cookie.

Fig Cookies 
Adapted from Nick Malageri's, Cookies Unlimited

For the dough
2 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cups packed brown sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
10 tbsp cold butter, cut in 10 pieces
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

In the bowl of a food processor, whiz the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter and pulse to incorporate. The butter should be in 1/4 inch pieces. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and the vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the processor and pulse to combine. The dough should start to come together. If it doesn't, add a few teaspoons of cream. The dough should not yet have fully come together. Turn it out onto your counter top and use your hands to knead and work the dough into a disk. Do not over work the dough.

Chill the dough for a least an hour and up to a couple days.

For the filling
12 ounces (about 2 cups) dried figs
5 ounces (1 and 1/4 cups) walnut pieces, toasted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cloves
2/3 cup honey

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and whiz to combine.

To assemble
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12x16 rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 3 strips, 16 inches long. Spread some filling down the center of each strip. You should use half the filling. Save the rest for the next time you make cookies. It freezes well. Fold the dough to cover the filling and pinch shut. Turn the filled log over and place it on a cookie sheet. Cover and refrigerate the cookies for at least one hour.

Slice the logs into pieces, about one and a half to two inches wide, or however you'd like them. Place the cookies an inch apart on a parchment covered cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes. They should be lightly browned when ready.


  1. Ah, birthdays. I have a confession, I read this and felt a slight twinge of sadness that mine has come and gone. I'm totally up for the challenge, though I feel like a bit of a cheat since Heather provided the recipe a little while back, but this is the impetus I need to get on it.

    Oh - and I'm going to try these recipes with dates, what are your thoughts? I have a giant block of dates in my pantry calling to me.

    1. You could... Of course, then they'd be date bars and a totally different beast, though, perhaps a friendly beast.

      Did Heather actually provide the recipe? or just brag about access to it? I'd brag too...