If I close my eyes, I can conjure up the memory of my father sharing dried figs with my brother and me when we were little.
I cannot see Dad but I know he's there. We are rather young, as the image in my head is of our childhood home and not the house we moved to in later years. The edges of are a bit fuzzy, and the details are not all there. It is a moment tied to nothing specific, really. For all I know, it is not just one moment, but instead the layered culmination of the countless times we snacked on the honey-sweet fruit. But when I think of dried figs, I think of back then.
Those figs were plump hockey pucks, squat with fat, golden cheeks. Slightly flattened on top and bulging at the sides, speared through their centres and strung together like a wreath. You had to pry them apart from their neighbours, each bearing the impression of the next. Their skin was wrinkled and tough, resistant to be bitten, but giving way to the jammy pulp, gritty with seeds in the most delicious way. Sugary sand. They were toothsome, and as far as I was concerned, the only way one ate a fig.
It sounds silly to say, but I do not think of dried figs as often as I should. More often than not I am distracted by the lures of the fresh variety. Fresh figs are foxy little minxes. On the outside, they are mysterious and musky, with soft skin ranging from the palest green to the deepest black. On the inside, they reveal a flesh that can boast a strawberry blush or a claret stain. They are tempestuous, with only a brief window when they're are at their glorious, ripe peak. After that, it is a steep decline into decay, and the utmost despair.
To be frank, fresh figs are sexier; tearing one open feels like an act of abandon.
But dried figs are making a comeback around here. You see, dear reader, I am wholly besotted with figs that (for the sake of clarity) could be called semi-dried. They were labelled dried in the market, but are a whole other personality than those that I remember from years ago. These tawny darlings retain their flat-bottomed teardrop shape, but their taste is more concentrated than fresh; a deeply resiny, sticky sweetness is found beneath the only-slightly leathered skin. Truly figgy, through and through.
When I came across a recipe for Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps, my first thought was "yum!" as it is no secret that I am known to snack now and again. My second thought was "FIGS" all uppercase and grand, as I set about the task of integrating my new crush into the cobblestoned crackers. Swapping out walnuts for pecans as that was what was on hand, and thyme for the rosemary, the crisps were easily adapted to my fancy. The method is simple, requiring pretty much one bowl and a double-bake process similar to biscotti.
The result, a golden stack of crisps as beautiful as Moroccan tiles, each a mosaic of nuts, seeds and fruit. Unforgettably good.
Fig and Walnut Crisps
Adapted from Julie, with thanks.
softened butter for greasing pans, or nonstick spray
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup coarsely-chopped dried figs
1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seed, bashed about in a mortar and pestle or pulsed in a spice grinder
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans, or spray with a nonstick spray.
Spread the walnuts and pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for about 7-10 minutes until fragrant but without much colour. Remove from the baking sheet and into a bowl, then set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir until combined. Add the reserved nuts and remaining ingredients and stir until just blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until golden and puffed, about 45 minutes. When touched, the loaves should spring back immediately. Turn the loaves out of their pans to cool completely, right side up, on a wire rack.
The bread is easiest to slice when fully-cooled. Leave the loaves to rest at room temperate for a few hours or, following Julie's suggestion, once cooled wrap them well in clingfilm and pop them in the freezer. Once frozen, slice the loaves as thin as you can and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Reduce the oven heat to 300° F and bake them for about 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. Cool completely on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.
Makes about 8 dozen crackers.
• I used a particularly robust dark honey, which caused the loaves to brown a bit quicker than expected. This was not a problem, but something to keep in mind. In the future, I think I will use a lighter honey, not only for the browning but also for a more subtle taste.
• Next time I make these (and there will most definitely be a next time), I am planning on using miniature loaf pans for a two-bite size.