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Pillow talk on a date

Monday, August 1, 2011

Give me a packet of Fig Newtons and I will polish it off in one sitting. Heck, give me two packets and I may only falter with the last two slices to go. I will eat it all and not feel an iota of guilt for it. I will not skip meals or even think of the exercise I will have to do to work off the empty calories. That is how much I love Fig Newtons (not named for Sir Isaac Newton, by the way).

Unfortunately, Fig Newtons are hard to come by in Malaysia nowadays. Although, I have to say that the last time I managed to get them, I didn't feel like eating the whole packet. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think they tasted quite the way I remembered them. Perhaps my tastes have changed or I have just grown up and no longer feel the childhood glee of getting a biscuit that seemed so exotic because it came "from overseas".

Ingredients can now be made in a lab, but I won't speculate on whether the company that produces Fig Newtons is doing anything different to their recipe and just go on to making my own biscuit based on what I remember.

It's not difficult to get figs, but since dates are in abundance at the moment due to the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which starts today, I want to get this dried fruit in everything. Already I have made a sticky glaze for chicken and a rice salad with dates, and now on to some confection.
Deglet Nour: Cheery, sunny and a good eating date
Because figs have those tiny seeds and dates don't, I have added poppy seeds to the date filling to replicate the texture of the Fig Newton filling. Another ingredient I added but which I did not include in the recipe below is glacé pineapple. I used only one little ring of it (chopped up and cooked with the dates), and while I don't think it makes a big difference, there is a hint of tartness in the filling which I like. The pineapple is purely optional, of course.

To make the rolls, I divide the dough into four because it's easier to handle smaller portions. The dough is quite soft, and it's easier to roll it out between cling film. In fact, a rolling pin isn't even necessary as the dough can be easily pressed out with my hands. The cling film also helps form straight edges.

The verdict: These date pillows (the name is from a biscuit recipe book that I no longer have)  may slightly resemble traditional Fig Newtons but besides the fact that they don't contain figs, are quite different. The date pillows are made with natural ingredients, organic flour and free-range eggs, and the pastry is more tender and buttery, but I have to admit I prefer the texture of the commercial Fig Newton pastry as it is not so crumbly. I'll need to work on the dough some more.

For now, I am happy to have a batch of good homemade biscuits on stand-by. Next time, I must remember not to try them as soon as they come out of the oven no matter how tempting they look. That date filling is hot!

Another slice?
Makes 20 cookies

125g butter
75g caster (fine) sugar
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
220g pastry flour sifted with a pinch of salt

225g dried dates, chopped
1½ tablespoons poppy seeds 
40-50g caster sugar (to taste)
100ml water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Egg wash (combined)
1 medium egg
¼ teaspoon water
Pinch of salt
  • To make the dough, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg gradually and mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and mix just to combine. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the refrigerator.
  • To make the filling, place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Turn down heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and there is no more liquid in the pan, about 5 minutes. Process or blend for a few seconds until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  • To assemble the date pillows, divide the dough into four portions. Work with one quarter at a time and refrigerate the other portions. Place one portion on a piece of cling film, cover with another piece and roll or press out into a 10cm x 20cm rectangle. Use the edge of the cling film to help neaten and even out the edges of the dough. Brush the edges with egg wash. Place a quarter of the filling along the centre of each piece of dough. Use the edge of the cling film to fold the edge of the dough up to cover the filling. Roll each log so that the seam is on the bottom. Leave the cling film in and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
  • Line baking sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 180°C. Remove filled logs from the fridge, place onto the parchment-line sheets and unwrap the cling film carefully. Make deep slits in the logs 4cm apart but do not cut all the way through.
  • Egg-wash the top of the logs. Bake until nicely browned, 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the sheet; while still warm, slice the logs all the way through to separate the pillows and cool them on a wire rack.

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