When I was growing up in the 1950s our desserts were mainly fruit-based. My grandparents had a fig tree in their backyard, right beside the chicken coop. We had fresh figs in the summer but by October my grandfather was covering the tree with leaves and brush to protect it from the cold. In the winter he would buy dried figs and dates to eat as a snack. The figs were attached to a string and we just "picked" one as we walked past. For the holidays my grandmother would make a deep-fried cookie filled with mashed dates (no one pureed anything back then) and chocolate. They were delicious.
I'm sure my grandmother would have loved these fig and date recipes.
Infused Honey Syrup
¾ cup honey
3 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice from 2 to 3 oranges (one reserved from zesting)
To infuse the honey, combine honey, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook gently over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the honey to cool and infuse at least 1 hour.
To make the honey syrup, use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the spices from the infused honey, then add the orange zest and juice to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then lower the heat and continue simmering until the syrup is thickened and reduced to about ¾ cup, about 20 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let the syrup cool to room temperature.
The syrup can be made a day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
From: "Indulge: Delicious Little Desserts That Keep Life Real Sweet" by Kathy Wakile (St. Martin's Griffin; Sept. 2014, $26.99)
I used dried bay leaves and placed them in the baking dish with the wine and extra zest. I removed the bay leaves before serving.
12 dried figs
Zest of 1 orange, removed in large strips with a vegetable peeler
6 fresh bay leaves
½ cup almonds
½ cup sweet wine
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut a small horizontal slit in each fig, being careful not to cut all the way through. Cut orange zest into a dozen 1-inch long pieces, and tear or cut each bay leaf in half. Stuff each fig with 1 piece orange zest, half of a bay leaf and 1 almond.
Pack the stuffed figs into a small baking dish that will hold them in a snug, even layer. Scatter over any additional almonds and any extra orange zest if you're left with some.
Pour the wine evenly over the figs, place another baking dish over the figs to weigh them down, and press firmly to really get the figs quite flat and saturated with the wine. Place the whole thing, including the second baking dish, into the oven and bake 20 minutes.
Serve figs hot, warm, or at room temperature, alongside just about any cheese.
From: "Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food" by Jody Williams (Hachette, 2014, $30)
Chocolate-dipped California Figs
These are easy and especially tasty with the combination of chocolate, marshmallow and nuts. I couldn't find large figs so I used small pieces of walnuts instead of whole walnuts.
20 large dried California figs
¼ cup miniature marshmallows
20 walnuts or pecans
½ cup semisweet or white chocolate
Cut a slit in the side of each fig and stuff with a marshmallow and a nut. Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler over simmering water, stirring until smooth and satiny (do not boil). Remove from heat. Holding by stem, dip figs halfway into chocolate. Allow excess chocolate to drip. Place figs on wax paper until the chocolate sets. Store in airtight container, separating layers with wax paper.