I’ve always felt that a good, ripe fig is like a little scoop of jam in its own bite-sized pouch. So when fig season arrives, I enjoy heaps of them unadorned, and I gleefully accept their sweetness as a timely gift. (Something ought to soothe the sting of summer’s end, don’t you think?) But it never takes long before the jammy fruit inspires me to create a new treat in its honor, like a creamy pie or a tender torte. This year was no exception.
My mood was casual yet decadent this time. I wanted to pair the figs with the depth and richness of brown butter, and I gravitated toward the warmth that whiskey would offer. Together, this combination found its home in a blondie-like bar with a hearty dose of salty-meets-sweet. The double-cooked fruit turns extra tender, and its tiny seeds become scattered across the bars, offering pleasant bits of crispness in every bite.
Whiskey Fig Browned Butter Bars
Makes 24 to 48 bars
1 cup unsalted butter
12 ounces fresh ripe figs (about 10 to 12; I used Black Mission)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whiskey (I use rye)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar or Muscovado sugar
2 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over a medium flame, stirring regularly with a heatproof whisk or spoon, and scraping the inner bottom of the pan gently. Let it bubble for several minutes, watching closely, until it’s becoming brown, fragrant, toasty and rich — but not burnt. Remove from the heat, transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. (Many recipes recommend straining the browned butter in order to remove the bits of charred solids, but I prefer not to; I like the hint of smoky complexity they add to these bars.)
Rinse the figs, remove stems, and cut them into wedges. (I cut each of mine into eighths, but the size of your figs may require a different division.) Set nearby. In a small to medium saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the whiskey, the granulated sugar, and 2 teaspoons of the vanilla, stirring over medium heat just until the sugar has dissolved. Add the sliced figs and cook, bubbling, for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Pour the mixture through a sieve set over a medium bowl in which the syrup will gather. Set in a cool place.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan, then line with a piece of parchment big enough that it hangs over the two long sides of the pan.
Once the brown butter has cooled to lukewarm, add the brown sugar and beat well. Add the egg yolks and remaining teaspoon of vanilla, mixing until incorporated. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the butter mixture and stir to combine.
Measure out 1/4 cup of the fig syrup and add it to the batter. (If there is any syrup left, use it as you wish: think cocktails, waffles, sundaes.) Beat the batter until smooth and even.
Press the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Carefully arrange the cooked fig slices, which may still be quite warm, cut side-down, on top of the batter, only gently pushing them in.
To give the bars a toasty shine, make a whiskey egg wash: Vigorously whisk 2 tablespoons of the egg whites with the remaining 1 tablespoon whiskey. Evenly brush the mixture over the bars until just coated. There’s no need to use it all, as pooling egg whites are not recommended.
Bake until the edges are toasty brown and center is set, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the bars cool completely in the pan. Use the parchment to remove the cooled slab of bars. Carefully peel and discard the parchment, and transfer the bars to a cutting board.
Slice as you wish, remembering that these bars are rich, and that — like brownies — their toasty edge pieces are often the most coveted. To store, keep covered and chilled, eating within a few days. I like to slice mine small and serve them in mini muffin liners or slips of parchment.
Soft and buttery, these whiskey fig bars burst with luxury and succulence. The ultra-tender fruit offers mellow hints of warm liquor and vanilla. Meanwhile, the silky batter bestows a delightful depth of flavor: molassesy brown sugar, flecks of toasty browned butter, and a perfect portion of salt. Let’s celebrate the season with figs in many forms! These luscious bars are a great place to start.
Moriah VanVleet is the author of butter, sugar, flowers, where this recipe first appeared.
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