Why go to the trouble to make your own fig jam to bake a batch of fig bars?
Just let me count the reasons why.
One, fresh figs beckon like crazy at the farmers markets right now.
Two, making fig jam prolongs the life of this exquisite fruit that’s highly perishable and can turn moldy in an instant once ripe.
Three, all it takes is one taste to make you glad you made this lovely jam that’s redolent of cardamom and ginger.
And four, frankly, freshly made jam in freshly baked jam bars just can’t be beat.
That’s why I decided to devote the time to making both the “Fig Jam” and the “Jam Bar” recipes from the new cookbook, “It Starts with Fruit: Simple Techniques and Delicious Recipes for Jams, Marmalades, and Preserves” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy.
The cookbook is by Jordan Champagne, the co-founder of Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove, know for its pickles, shrubs and jams. With that kind of background, it’s no wonder that this is such a definitive guide to making all manner of preserves.
Champagne includes master recipes for preserves, as well as step-by-step photos that are incredibly helpful, especially when it comes to judging whether your jam has cooked down enough to gel properly. She offers three methods for processing or canning your jam, too.
More than 70 recipes are included for preserves, as well as baked goods that make use of them. Get ready for “Plum Cinnamon Jam,” “White Nectarine with Habanero Jam,” “Strawberry Ginger Shrub,” “Elderberry Juice,” and “Gluten-Free Thumbprint Cookies.”
“Fig Jam” happens to be one of the easiest preserves in the book, too. I used mostly green-skinned Adriatic figs with a few purple-skinned Black Mission figs. The fresh figs only take 10 minutes or so to cook down into jam consistency after macerating in sugar and lemon juice for 24 hours beforehand. That gives the figs a head start in exuding their juices and breaking down their flesh.
The perfect consistency is practically guaranteed just by eyeballing the mixture as it bubbles on the stovetop. You will see the figs go from soft fruit afloat in a syrup to a thicker, uniform jam texture with the fruit much more broken down.
That means you don’t even need to go to the trouble of judging its viscosity with the usual jam test of smearing some on a chilled/frozen plate to see how thick it is when cooled.
Since I’ve only actually canned jams a couple times, the “Jam Bars” recipe also appealed because it gave me a vehicle to use most of this small batch of fig jam so I didn’t need to put up any for longer storage. You’ll probably have a little bit of fig jam left over even after making the jam bars, which you can lavish on buttered toast, stir into Greek yogurt, drizzle over oatmeal, dollop over vanilla ice cream, or eat with some good, nutty tasting cheese.
The jam bars are almost like granola bar sandwiches with a thick layer of jam in the middle. The hearty granola-like layers are made of a mix of rolled oats, flour, oil, cinnamon, and milk (it calls for almond or oat, but I used whole). The bars can actually be made gluten-free by using all oat flour, which is what I did since I am trying to use up a bag in the pantry.
The recipe calls for baking the bars in an 8-by-10-inch pan. I only had a 9-by-9-inch one, so that’s what I used. If you do the same, just note you will probably have to increase the baking time from 45 minutes to about 60 to 65 minutes.
The recipe instructs to press the first layer of oat mixture into the pan without greasing it. I wished I had trusted my gut instinct, which told me the pan should really be lined with lightly greased parchment or aluminum foil beforehand. I changed the recipe below to reflect that you need to take this step — or else it will be nearly impossible to remove your jam bars from the pan neatly.
Champagne describes the bars as ones that “travel well.” That may be, but even when cooled completely after baking, they are too fragile to pick up with your fingers to eat. They are more like a fruit crumble at that point that you’d eat with a plate and fork. However, if you refrigerate the bars overnight or for longer storage, they do firm up enough then to pick up easily.
Maybe because I used primarily pale green-skinned figs, the jam is not necessarily visible as a distinct layer in the middle of the bars. The jam center is really only noticeable on the outside edges of the bars that touched the sides of the pan and thus, caramelized more deeply.
Even so, these bars satisfy in so many ways, especially with their sweet, wine-y fig jam middle with rounded citrusy, gingery and woodsy notes.
With a scoop of ice cream or a fluff of whipped cream, these bars make for a homey summer dessert. Even better, they are a fabulous treat for breakfast enjoyed simply as they are. With an abundant amount of hearty oats, they are plenty filling, and will fuel you easily until lunch rolls around.
(Yields four 4-ounce jars)
2 pounds figs (approximately 2 baskets)
1⁄4 cup lemon juice
3⁄4 cup organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
Zest of 1 orange
Day One: Wash and dry the figs. Cut off the fig stems and slice into quarters. Put the figs in a large bowl and drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit. Pour the sugar evenly over the figs, cover, and let macerate at room temperature for 12 to 48 hours.
Day Two: Prepare four sterilized 4-ounce jars for storing the finished jam. Put the contents in a nonreactive pot large enough so that it is no more than one-third full and place over high heat. Add the cardamom, ginger, and orange zest to the pot. You want to start cooking down your jam over a heavy flame and stir as it comes to a boil. Since this jam is such a small batch, it will cook down very quickly; I have often made this batch size while preparing dinner and it only takes about 10 to 12 minutes to cook down. The figs gel up really nicely once the fruit and the juice come together. I do not even take a gel test with fig jam, as it is visually obvious when it comes together into a jam.
Once the jam reaches your desired consistency, remove it from the heat and fill the jars, leaving ½-inch of headspace at the top. Wipe the rims, apply the lids, and process in a hot water bath canner for 8 minutes. Jars will keep for up to 1 year.
Enjoy with a sharp, salty cheese and some homemade bread.
(Yields one 8-by-10-inch or 9-by-9-inch pan, cut into about 12 squares)
4 cups rolled oats
2 cups all-purpose flour (can be made gluten-free with oat, quinoa, or rice flour)
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
11⁄2 cups oil (can be coconut or safflower)
1⁄2 cup almond milk or oat milk or whole milk
8 to 12 ounces jam or marmalade, depending on how thick you want it and how much you have
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To make the crust: In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the oil and mix thoroughly until the oil is evenly distributed. Add the almond milk and mix to combine.
Line an 8-by-10-inch or 9-by-9-inch pan with lightly greased parchment or aluminum foil, long enough so that the ends stick out over the edge of the pan. You want to have enough overhang so you can grasp this to lift the bars easily out of the pan after baking. Take half of the dough mixture and firmly press it into the baking pan.
For the filling: Spread the jam in an even layer on top, then place the rest of the dough mixture on top of the jam and press down lightly to create an even layer of dough. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. (If you use a 9-by-9-inch pan, it will take about 60 minutes or so to fully bake.)
Let cool to room temperature before cutting into 12 pieces, since the crust will harden once it cools. These bars travel well (if refrigerated overnight first) and keep for up to 4 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Store: Four days.
Adapted from “It Starts With Fruit” by Jordan Champagne
More Fresh Fig Recipe to Enjoy: Brown Butter Almond Tea Cakes
And: Fig Tart
And: Fig Compote