Figs and prunes seldom get the respect they deserve, but when they’re combined with walnuts and formed into delicious, bite-sized nibbles, they command much more than just respect. They get a blast of loving attention with smiles. Serving these at small gatherings as little after-lunch confections, I noticed guests reaching for seconds and thirds.
These little tidbits not only become desirable confections on the dessert tray, but they also make healthful treats to include in school kids’ lunchboxes or a between-meal snacks for little ones who need a healthful energy boost during the day.
They’re great keepers, too! Just pile them into a plastic container with a cover and set them aside on the countertop so they’re convenient for frequent nibbling—especially for the little ones.
For holiday parties, we tend to pull out all the stop. After all, the holidays come only once a year and we just have to go all out and prepare a fun sweet table loaded with everything from cookies and bars to truffles and confections. Be sure to add these little two-bite treats to your repertoire of collected recipe favorites. They might just become new favorites.
I made a batch of these for our own pleasure and put a heaping mound of them on a dish when a neighborhood friend came over with a loaf of his delicious sourdough bread. With enthusiasm, he popped one into his mouth and nodded with a smile of approval. As we sat at the table with our foodie friend and chatted about recipes, we noticed he kept reaching for another Plum Goodie, and another, and another. When he took the last one, he looked at me in wonder and asked, “Did I just eat the whole plate of these?”
Of course, my husband and I just giggled. It was the best testimonial I have ever encountered.
They disappeared so quickly I didn’t have the chance to plate them. That means I have to get to work and bake up another batch — soon! I love that this recipe makes a hearty quantity of about 40 little squares.
Because these tasty confections are so unique, they would even make a lovely homemade hostess gift to bring when visiting friends during the holiday season. Consider these as a delicious holiday gift for Grandma, who doesn’t need another scarf or pair of slippers but loves to nibble on sweet treats.
Dried fruits are a holiday bonus, providing pleasant diversity from the limited variety of fresh fruits like apples, pears, and oranges available during the winter season. To vary this recipe, try replacing the prunes with dried apricots or peaches. Both would offer delightful flavor paired with the definitive flavor of the sesame seeds that cover both the top and bottom of these treats.
Yield: about 40 one-inch squares
10 ounces dried calmyrna or golden figs, trimmed and snipped in half
1 1/4 cups pitted prunes
12 pitted dates, snipped in half
3/4 cup water
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 to 3 whole star anise
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons organic sugar
1 or 2 tablespoons water, as needed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups walnuts
3/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
Combine the figs, prunes, dates, water, cinnamon sticks, and star anise in a 2 to 3-quart saucepan. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and steam for 10 minutes.
Discard the cinnamon sticks and anise and transfer the mixture to a food processor, including any liquid remaining in the pan. Add the sugar, water, lemon juice, and ground cinnamon and process until smooth and completely pureed. The mixture will be very thick.
Spoon the mixture into a medium bowl and add the walnuts. Mix well with a large spoon to incorporate the walnuts evenly throughout the mixture.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and have ready two large rimmed baking sheets. Cut 2 pieces of parchment to fit the baking sheets. Place one piece of parchment directly on the countertop, and set the other aside.
Sprinkle 1/3 of the sesame seeds into the center of the parchment and spread them evenly over a 6-inch diameter.
Carefully drop small spoonfuls of the walnut-fig mixture to cover the sesame seeds, and flatten the mixture with the back of a spoon, spreading it out to create a rectangle about 11 inches by 14 inches. Sprinkle the next 1/3 of the remaining sesame seeds over the top, pressing them down with the back of a spoon or your fingers. Sprinkle tiny bits of the remaining sesame seeds over sparsely covered areas, and set the remaining seeds aside.
Lift the parchment with the sesame-covered slab and place it into one baking sheet. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove from the oven and place the remaining piece of parchment over the top. Cover with the remaining baking sheet and invert the pans.
Remove the top piece of parchment and discard it. Sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds over the uncovered areas. Press them into the surface, and bake 30 minutes longer.
Remove and cool the walnut-figgy slab. Using a flatware knife, cut the slab into 1-inch squares. Place the squares onto a large platter and leave them at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours to firm and dry slightly.
Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Covered in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature, the Walnut and Figgy Bites will keep for up to 2 months. For longer storage, put the confections in heavy-duty zip-lock bags and freeze for up to 6 months.