Maple Fig Shortbread Bars
There is a definite seasonal urgency to cooking, especially this time of year. One minute you’re on top of the game, the next Mother Nature snatches away your favorite ingredients without warning. Removing her wrench from my plans is where you will currently find me.
Originally conceived to capture the final harvest of fresh figs, our tree took an early holiday, and has since been put to bed. But I’m a sucker for fig cookies, and darned if this setback was going to impede my weekly baking therapy — dried, it is!
Sandy Scottish shortbread is traditionally made from white sugar, a generous amount of butter, plus white flour; though, sometimes a small portion of rice flour is incorporated as well. My recipe take some liberties, featuring new, more nutrient-dense ingredients for a shortbread that stands its ground next to the classic in both flavor + texture: maple syrup, olive oil, and a combination of whole wheat Atta flour, rice flour + arrowroot starch.
The topping: re-hydrated dried figs standing in for fresh are pureed with cinnamon, vanilla, and a double hit of orange from juice + zest. When spread over that feather-soft shortbread base, the bars have a unique, yet familiar, feeling…
What’s in it for me?
At only 110 calories, with zero fat or cholesterol, one serving of figs (about 3 small-medium — fresh or dried) provides almost 10% of your DVs for calcium, potassium, and vitamins K + B6. Figs also have nearly 2 g fiber per fruit, and are a source of polyphenols + the flavanoid quercetin, both of which have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (Learn more about the nutritional benefits of figs.)
Powdery soft whole wheat Atta flour offers roughly 4 g each of protein + fiber per 1/4 cup (30 g), plus a small amount of healthy oils, iron + zinc, and antioxidant minerals selenium + manganese. Light and starchy sweet white rice flour + arrowroot starch round out the bulk of the dry ingredients, helping retain moisture for the classic tender, somewhat crumbly texture of shortbread.
Pure maple syrup is a natural sweetener that contains manganese, zinc + a small amount of anti-inflammatory polyphenols, while the healthy fats from the olive oil help your body absorb all of the beneficial nutrients mentioned above. Furthermore, the olive oil’s predominantly mono-unsaturated fats + its vitamin E are both known for their potential to help lower total + LDL cholesterol levels, decreasing risk of heart disease, and also improve control of blood sugar + insulin levels.
Now that I think on it again, the dried figs might actually be preferable in this application — more texture + the rehydration promotes greater absorption of the other flavors in the topping. Besides, those ripe figs are so precious right off the tree, and so much better eaten fresh and with little fuss.
In the end it all worked out for the best. Mother Nature, she knew. ENJOY!
Tell me… Are you a shortbread fan? How about fig cookies? Other favorites?
- Fig Topping:
- 2/3 cup dried figs, stemmed and coarsely torn or chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp fresh orange zest (or 1/4 tsp dried orange zest)
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
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- Shortbread Dough:
- 1/2 cup Atta (or whole wheat pastry, or sorghum) flour
- 1/2 cup white (or brown) rice flour
- 1/2 cup arrowroot (or tapioca) starch
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 6 Tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin, unless you want a more pronounced taste)
- Add the figs and dates to a small, heat-safe bowl, and cover with hot water; set aside to soften for 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the fruit to a the bowl of a food processor; reserve the water. Add the orange juice, vanilla, orange zest and pinch of cinnamon. Pulse a few times, then run for 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture is mostly smooth. If needed, add some of the reserved warm soaking liquid 1 Tbsp at a time to help move things along. The filling can be prepared and refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day ahead.
- Preheat oven to 325° F, with a rack placed in the middle position. Line a 9-inch loaf tin with parchment paper, or grease with a bit of oil or butter; set aside.
- Whisk together the flours, arrowroot starch and salt. Make a well in the middle, and pour in the maple syrup and olive oil; stir until the mixture comes together to form a soft dough. (Alternatively, you could use a food processor for this step.)
- Use your clean hands or a rubber scraper to press the dough evenly into the prepared tin. Use a sharp, thin knife to slice the dough crosswise into 4 large, equal rectangles, and then slice each on the diagonal to connect the opposite corners, making 8 right-angled triangles. (You can also slice 8 long thin rectangles.) Prick each triangle (or rectangle) several times with a toothpick or fork.
- Bake 40 to 45 minutes until the surface is firm and the edges are a pale golden brown. Use your sharp, thin knife to lightly retrace the slices while still warm, then set the tin aside on a wire rack to cool completely. When cool, carefully use the parchment paper as a sling to lift the bars out of the tin. Bars are best eaten within 2 days, but keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
+ Think beyond dried figs, e.g., dried unsweetened dates, apricots, cherries, berries, apples...
+ To make it gluten-free, swap Atta/whole wheat pastry flour for a 1:1 amount of sorghum or oat flour. You could also try slightly heavier millet flour, buckwheat flour, or a nut flour.
+ If you don't need it to be vegan, swap out maple syrup in equal amounts for earthier sorghum or lighter honey.
+ Easily replace the olive oil 1:1 with melted and cooled unsalted butter.
+ If you don't have an orange, try lemon juice and zest, or go boozy with a splash of orange liqueur (omitting the zest). You could also use 1 Tbsp of the dried fruit soaking liquid in place of the orange juice (again, omitting the zest).
An HGN original recipe.
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