A lot of what I do in the kitchen is rooted in nostalgia, often an attempt to recreate the food of my childhood. Although I fear my pastry will never be as light as my mother’s, my cakes never so moist, I want my kids to know the simple pleasure of home-baked Victoria sponge, ginger biscuits and the anticipation that builds as a perfect apple pie browns in the oven.
There were a few treats in our childhood, though, that weren’t baked by our mother. One of those was fig rolls, which often appeared in our lunch boxes. As our mother generally considered anything “shop bought” to be inferior to home-made (a trait I fear I have inherited), I had always assumed fig rolls were either too tricky or too exotic to make at home.
Care a fig? (clockwise from below, left) Cooking figs in orange juice adds a citrusy zest; add the eggs last while making the pastry; and fig rolls are perfect with a steaming cuppa. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
There is, after all, something Garden of Eden about figs—the fruit was one of the foods of the promised land, the leaves used by Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. Fresh figs (they’re in season in Indian markets right now) are soft, decadent, forbidden. Dried, they conjure up bacchanalian excess—the sweet stickiness of the flesh flecked with the slight crunch of the seeds.
Seeing the beautiful garlands of dried figs in my local market recently, I had a fig roll yearning and as I hadn’t seen them in the shops here, decided to have a bash at home. A fig roll is a cross between a cake and a biscuit—the filling has to be soft and sweet yet citrusy, the pastry crumbly and buttery. I cooked the figs in orange juice and lemon zest and gave them a shot of cardamom; the pastry was softened with icing sugar and egg. They were much, much better than the fig rolls of my childhood: the figgy filling sweet but tangy, with the mysterious seeded crunch and the pastry melt-in-the-mouth buttery. They’re perfect with a steaming cup of chai and if you can stop at one, these biscuits are also wonderfully low in sugar as most of the sweetness comes from the figs. But I realize that’s a very big “if”.
Orange and Cardamom Fig Rolls
Makes about 18 rolls
250g dried figs
300ml orange juice
Zest of 1 lemon
3 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
75g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
Place figs, orange juice, lemon zest and cardamom pods in a pan, bring to a boil, then simmer until figs are plumped up and soft. Boil off most of the orange juice, then leave the figs to cool completely.
For the pastry, put the butter, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat (either by hand or with an electric whisk) until light and creamy. Beat in the egg, then the flour. Work the pastry into a ball with your hands then wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge to cool slightly.
When you’re ready to assemble the fig rolls, preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius.
Remove the cardamom pods from the cooled figs, then tip them into a food processor and blitz until they turn into a smooth paste. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the chilled pastry into three pieces.
Take one piece and shape into a rough square. The pastry will be very soft and crumbly so keep your rolling pin and work surface well floured so it doesn’t stick. Roll the square of pastry as thinly as possible until approximately 36x12cm. Take a third of the figgy paste and spoon it along the centre of the pastry. Bring one side of the pastry up over the fig mixture, then bring the other side up over that. Press gently to seal, then turn the whole sausage over so the sealed side is on the bottom. Trim the ends, then cut the roll into six even pieces. Press gently to flatten slightly, then with the back of a fork, mark each fig roll and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the rolls are cooked but still pale golden. Cool the fig rolls on a rack, then dust with icing sugar.
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust.wordpress.com
Write to Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org