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 lots 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 browned 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 a 9 x 13″ pan, 24- 48 bars depending on size]
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 12 ounces fresh ripe figs (about 10-12 medium figs; I used Black Mission)
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whiskey (I used Rye)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1.25 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 egg yolks (reserve the whites)
- 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a small saucepan, heat the butter over a medium flame, stirring occasionally. Let it bubble for several minutes, watching closely, until it’s becoming brown and fragrant. Remove from heat; set aside. (Note: Many people strain their browned butter at this point in a recipe, in order to remove the bits of charred solids — but I prefer not to; I like the hints of smoky complexity they add to these bars.)
Rinse 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 whiskey, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and the granulated sugar, stirring over heat until sugar has dissolved. Add the sliced figs and cook at medium heat, bubbling uncovered for 8-10 minutes. Remove from stovetop, let cool for a few minutes, and transfer to a sieve set over a bowl in which the syrup will gather. Set in a cool place.
Grease sides and bottom of a 9 x 13″ pan, then line with a piece of parchment big enough that it hangs over the two long sides of the pan. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F. Once the butter has cooled to lukewarm, beat it with the brown sugar. Add the egg yolks and 1 teaspoon vanilla, mixing until incorporated. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the butter mixture and begin to stir. 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, even just sparkling water.) Beat batter until smooth and even.
Spread batter evenly into parchment lined pan. Carefully arrange the cooked fig slices, which may still be quite warm, sliced side down on top of the batter, only gently pushing them in. [Optional: To give the bars a toasty shine, make a whiskey egg wash. To do so, vigorously whisk 2 tablespoons of reserved egg whites with remaining 1 tablespoon whiskey. Evenly brush the mixture over the bars until just coated (no need to use it all, as pooling of the egg white is not recommended).]
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges are toasty brown and center is not wet. Remove from oven and let cool completely in pan. Use parchment to remove the cooled slab. Carefully peel off and discard parchment, and transfer 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 stash and serve mine in mini muffin liners or slips of parchment.
Soft and buttery, these whiskey fig bars burst with both 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.
Maybe next time… While I like to use figs that are ripe but not mushy, this recipe is forgiving — it works fine with figs that are a little past their prime, or even with firm or otherwise imperfect figs. Similarly, other varieties of figs would work, or even a mix of types. Muscovado could be nice in place of the brown sugar, just as bourbon or even scotch would work in place of the rye whiskey I used here. Rum or brandy would be great, too.