Most of my childhood memories center around food and one of the earliest involves Fig Newtons. Before my brother had the audacity to be born on my fourth birthday, I was a painfully shy only child. So when my aunt and cousin drove in from out of town for a visit, I felt slightly terrified. My cousin was a bone fide Big Kid who could ride a bike and stuff. Don't those Big Kids pick on the Little Ones? I didn't plan on sticking around to find out.
I stole a package of Fig Newtons from the pantry and retreated to the safety of the basement. Maybe I just wanted to reenact a Fig Newton commercial; apparently "hiding with Newtons" was a recurring theme back then.
I didn't know it then, but my cousin was awesome. He would later send me WWF action figures on Valentine's Day, teach me how to "Walk Like An Egyptian" and school me in the fine art of tight-rolled jeans. But in this heartwarming, very special episode, he would teach me about the importance of family.
He tried to talk to me. He asked me about how my Castle Greyskull came to be overrun by Rainbow Brite dolls. He about my favorite colors. He asked if I'd share my Newtons. I dug in, avoided engagement, and pushed myself more tightly into the corner of the couch. When he finally ran back upstairs, I knew I had won a strategic victory over Big Kids everywhere.
To my dismay, he soon he returned, with a Pop Tart and a glass of milk. He sat on the far end of the couch and we watched Picture Pages together in silence, grabbing neither our crayons nor our pencils.
Eventually, he turned to me and said, "Did you know Fig Newtons and Pop Tarts are cousins, just like us? They look really different, but they're basically the same. One's big like me, and one's small, like you. But they're still just cookies with fruit inside."
I am not making this up. That became a life lesson I carry with me to this day. No, not the touching part about love and acceptance, but that foods have families too.
Before that revelation, desserts existed in an anarchist state where there was no rule of law but sugar. But after, I realized certain characteristics define all sweets and those traits let us organize them into categories for better understanding. Cakes. Pies. Cookies. Ice Cream. And even within those families, there are more families: drop cookies, sandwich cookies, cut out cookies, cookies with filling...
So when it came time to crack the Newton Code, I thought back to that defining moment. I thought, I have been preparing for this recipe my whole life.
Unfortunately, Fig Newtons made with Pop-Tart dough taste like crap.
So I tried again, deciding to take Fig Newton's tagline, "a cookie is just a cookie, but Newtons are fruit and cake" at face value. A cookie is just a cookie. If I wanted to make a Newton, I'd have to start with cake.
I went with my go-to "Yellow Cake" recipe because it has an obscene number of egg yolks that might help give the Newton a blush of yellow. Alas, that didn't quite happen—like Soft Batch Cookies, Fig Newtons have a unique day-glo coloring that the home cook has no business replicating. But it tasted right! I tweaked the recipe further, increasing the flour and omitting the liquids entirely, to transforms cake batter into cookie dough.
This recipe spans a few families. Part cookie, part cake, part Fruit Roll-Up. But the result is 100% Newton.
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About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thebravetart.
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