I have always considered Fig Rolls (UK) and Fig Newtons (North America) as a relatively healthy choice in the world of commercial cookies and biscuits. As easily digestible carbohydrates, they have also been a tasty favourite as “fuel food” for sports. However, they still fall into the category of processed food and so I was pleased to come across a naturally sweetened, gluten free, no-bake alternative to these popular commercial treats.
Although similar to Fig Rolls, Fig Newtons are the sweeter, soft-shelled North American cousin of the more biscuit-like casing of Fig Rolls in England. They both contain a sweet and delicious fig paste and, although my favourite flavour is still the classic fig jam filling, today’s Fig Newtons can be found with a variety of fillings including raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and apple cinnamon.
Original Fig Rolls
Although figs are a popular snack food throughout the world, it is thought that the first fig-filled baked goods were created by the early Egyptians. The purpose was to encase figs in a hand-rolled, flour-based pastry covering as a way to preserve foods for travelling longer distances.
Evolution of Fig Newtons in North America
According to ThoughtCo, Fig Newtons were first mass produced in North America as a result of the creation of a device which could easily fill the cookie dough with the fig filling. Although rumoured to be named after the physicist, Isaac Newton, today’s “Fig Newton” was actually named after a town in Massachusetts near where they were first produced.
Health Benefits of Figs
As well as having a unique taste and texture, figs are high in natural sugars and fiber and rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper.
This recipe is based on a version created by the Minimalist Baker with some added currants and crystallized ginger in the fig paste. The dates used were Sayer dates which are smaller and more economical than the popular Medjool date but work just as well for this recipe.
Fig Roll Outer Casing
- 1/4 cup gluten-free oats
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 1 cup raw pecans
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 cups firmly packed pitted dates (~23-26 dates)
Fig Roll Filling
- 8 ounces dried black mission figs
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 pinch salt
- 8-10 whole pitted dates
- 1-2 tbsp coconut sugar
- 1/4 cup of currants
- 1/8 cup candied ginger
- Preheat oven to 350 °C (175 °F ) and bake oats and nuts on a baking sheet for 8-12 minutes, stirring halfway, until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside.
- Once slightly cooled, blend oats, nuts, and salt in a food processor until a fine meal forms. Set aside.
- Add pitted dates to food processor and pulse until the mixture forms a ball.
- Add nuts and oats to food processor and spoon in the date mixture bit by bit and pulse until a loose dough forms.
- Spread the mixture on a parchment-lined surface and top with another piece of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to flatten into a 1/4-inch thick sheet. Form into a rectangle and then halve into two equal strips.
- Soak figs (stems removed) in hot water for 3 minutes, then drain and reserve fig water.
- Add figs to food processor and blend into a ball then add orange zest, ground cinnamon, currants, candied ginger and salt and mix. Add small amounts of the reserved date water until it starts to form a paste and is thick but spreadable.
- Blend in dates and/or coconut sugar to sweeten as desired.
- Spread the fig paste into 1-inch-thick lines down the center of the date-nut strips.
- Use the parchment paper to roll the edges of the dough over the fig filling until the dough ends meet and use the parchment paper to tighten and gently form the seams of the dough together.
- Freeze for about 30 minutes to firm up and then slice into roughly 1-inch slices (about 22-24 cookies).
- Store in the refrigerator in a well-sealed container for up to 1 week or in the freezer up to 1 month.
Since figs and dates are high in natural sugars, these easily portable homemade fig rolls still make great sustenance as a fuel food for many activities. With lots of other health benefits such as high in nutrients, low in fat and cholesterol and refined sugar free, they also make a great healthy snack or dessert.
With these fig rolls, it almost seems as though we have come full circle and are back to the hand-rolling methods of the early Egyptians and, even if the purpose of this treat is no longer specifically to preserve food for long voyages, they are certainly going to work well as a delicious treat for my next long bike ride!