Making Fig Newtons with Mrs. Bennett


I found this recipe in my Treasure Trove cookbook and had to make it. I love Fig Newtons! But I never buy cookies from the store anymore. It hadn’t crossed my mind to make them at home until I came across this recipe–and you know homemade is even better, so I knew they would be a real treat. The recipe is one of the newspaper clippings pasted into spare pages in the book. The top where the credit was likely listed is cut off closely over the title, but the instructions include reference to a Mrs. Bennett.

This recipe calls for raisins, but you could use figs–if you have figs, that is. Me, I don’t have any figs, and if raisins were good enough for Mrs. Bennett, they’re good enough for me. Mrs. Bennett came from the “make-do” war-time era. Nobody was spending precious gas shipping dark horse grocery items like figs around the country during the war.

Fig Newtons, by the way, is the brand name tradmarked by Nabisco but actually coined by a Philadelphia baker named Charles Rosen, who named his fig bars after his hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. It’s an ancient cookie invention, though, going back as far as the Egyptians who commonly made fig rolls or pastries–and it’s a flexible concept. If you don’t like figs or raisins, you could replace the filling with any flavor fruit spread that you like. Old ideas are often the best!

Mrs. Bennett also suggests adding a cup of chopped nuts for more flavor. (I didn’t add nuts.)

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How to make Homemade Fig Newtons:

For the dough–
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
6 cups flour*
7/8 cup melted lard

*I used 5 cups flour. (See my comments in the instructions.)

Note: You could use melted shortening or vegetable oil in place of the lard.

Instructions for many of these Treasure Trove recipes leave something to be desired. These war-time ladies knew what they were doing and they expected you to know, too. That’s what I love about these Treasure Trove recipes–they’re always an adventure. (See In Search of Strawberry Cake and the follow-up in In Search of Mrs. Brooks Randolph.)

Mrs. Bennett’s directions: Mix and let stand in cool place overnight.

First of all, I had a bit of trouble with the 6 cups of flour. I was having a hard time working the flour in by the fifth cup. In fact, I got in there and kneaded the dough with my fist to get that fifth cup in there, so I quit at 5 cups. (You go ahead and get that sixth cup in there if you want!)

I didn’t set the dough out overnight in a cool place. (Mrs. Bennett is turning over in her grave somewhere right about now.) I divided the dough into two balls and stuck them in the fridge for a couple hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

For the filling–
1 pound raisins (2 cups)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Mrs. Bennett’s directions: Grind 1 lb raisins, add 1 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar; let simmer almost dry then stir in 1 Tbsp cornstarch. Cool.

Grind the raisins? I decided Mrs. Bennett must be calling for the not-yet-invented food processor. I used my little food processor and did a cup at a time then put them in the pot with the water and sugar.

After it almost simmered dry, I mixed in the cornstarch then transferred the raisin mush to a small bowl and stuck it in the fridge.

To make the cookies, take the dough out of the fridge. Mrs. Bennett says it will be very firm but soften with kneading. I say it’ll be even softer if you let it sit out about 20 minutes before you try to use it.

Mrs. Bennett’s directions: Roll and cut pieces 2 1/2 by 3 inches. Add small amount of filling, fold over like fig newtons, crimp ends with fork and bake.

It would have been nice if she’d listed an oven temperature.

Here’s how I did it. Cut each of the two balls of dough in half so that you have four pieces. Roll out each piece thinly (about 1/8-inch thick) on a floured surface and into long, narrow rectangles, each rectangle about 12 inches long by 7 inches wide. Cut this piece in half, length-wise, to make two narrower strips. (Don’t get hung up on the measurements–you can make the cookies any size you want, divide your dough however you want. This is just how I did it. I made mine larger than store-bought Fig Newtons. Mine were more bar-size.)

Spread the filling down the center of each strip.

Fold the dough over, crimping to seal.

Place rolls seam-side down on a lightly greased baking sheet and press a rolling pin over the strips lightly to flatten the tops. (Be sure to space the strips out a bit–they do spread as they bake.)

Bake at 350-degrees for 15 minutes. After taking the cookies out of the oven, while still warm and soft, slice the strips into small bars about 2 inches wide then let the cookies finish cooling on wire racks.

I wouldn’t say these cookies came out looking exactly like Fig Newtons, but the real test is in the taste. And they are wonderful. They are better than Fig Newtons.

If you want to make yours look more like store-bought Fig Newton replicas, make your strips narrower so your bars will be smaller. (I didn’t care, but if you want to experiment around with the size, you can do it.)

P.S. I ran out of filling before I ran out of cookie dough. If this happens to you, you can either make more raisin filling or finish up using some jam for some variety.

This recipe makes about 6-7 dozen fig bars (depending on size). That’s a lot of cookies. Mrs. Bennett may have been short on directions, but she was long on cookies! If you don’t want thousands of Fig Newtons, you can cut the recipe in half. The dough and filling can also be saved in the fridge for up to a week, baking only a few dozen at a time if you prefer. This dough can also be frozen, so you could make up a big batch and take it out as needed.

See this recipe at Farm Bell Recipes and save it to your recipe box.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on July 2, 2010  

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32 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 7-2

    It’s 11:34p.m. here and those Fig Newtons LOOK SO YUMMY! I just got off work and I am hungry! :hungry: They did turn out just beautiful! I will have to try this recipe, Thanks for sharing!

  2. 7-2

    I LOVE fig newtons! I haven’t had them in forever. Those look wonderful! And you might as well make them bar size, who eats just one little fig newton? :hungry:

  3. 7-2


  4. 7-2

    Hmmm. Now that you mention it, there WERE raisin cookies around that time that were just yummy! Or filled with strawberry jam. Even the store bought version of the raisin cookie was pretty tasty. That one may have been frosted, maybe glazed would be a better description.

  5. 7-2

    I can make my own fig newtons?! That’s why I love this blog! Thanks for doing the hard work and leaving me with a recipe that works:)

  6. 7-2

    I love fig newtons, can this be made with fresh figs? How would you do that?

  7. 7-2

    Ancestors of fig newtons (too bad I can’t include a photo, just a link to one) yum:

    I even have the wooden molds for pressing designs into the tops.

    Darn, and I just started on a diet:

  8. 7-2

    I really don’t know anything about working with fresh figs, I’m sorry! I imagine you would need to chop and simmer just the same, maybe a little more because they’re fresh? I’ve never worked with fresh figs. You’d need to basically make a fig spread out of it to make the filling, so you’d do whatever you would normally do when making a fig spread (similar to making a jam out of fresh fruit).

  9. 7-2

    Suzanne, These look delicious! I love fig newtons. Have a great day!

  10. 7-2

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. The recipe jogged my memory and caused me to check out an old cook book (1960) and in the cookbook I have a similiar recipe. I shall have to try it. P.S. I like your filling much better than the one that I have in my old cook book. I cannot recall the last time that I ate a sote boughten cookie

  11. 7-2

    My parents have two fig trees that have enormous output – they are always begging all their friends to come and take some. Just the other day, my daughter was saying how much she loves Fig Newtons and how she wanted to try to make some!

  12. 7-2

    A few years back, our local paper had a recipe for Fig Newtons using fresh figs. 2 pounds fresh figs = 1 pound dried figs. I’ll post the recipe at the Bell. They turned out great and I try to make them every year during fig season – when I can beat the birds and squirrels to the fruit!

  13. 7-2

    I wish figs weren’t so fragile. I’d ship you some. We have a hyper-active fig tree. I’m so glad you posted this recipe. I’ve been searching for different fig recipes. Last year I put them on my dehydrator and the kids loved them as a snack.

  14. 7-2

    These look delicious! Thanks for posting the recipe.

  15. 7-2

    How much filling did you have after cooking? I think I have a jar of fig preserves I intended for making FNs just never got around to finding a recipe. Can’t wait now!

  16. 7-2

    It made about 2 cups filling. I may have used too much filling, I don’t know, but it wasn’t enough for me.

  17. 7-2

    Oh…summer time and sitting outside under the tree with a bag of Fig Newtons enjoying the day. Thanks for putting that wonderful picture and memory back in my head.

    I used to put cream cheese on top. Any way to work that into the cookie? Or …wait for it…coffee cake bar type cookie? (I don’t do rolling pins).

    I’m going home to experiment.
    Thanks for your wonderful blog – and all the folks that write in to putting the icing on the top.

  18. 7-2

    7/8 cup melted lard? Seems random. Oh, heck, go all out, use a whole cup!



  19. 7-2

    We have a large fig bush in the backyard, but no figs. The silly thing has given me 3 figs in 6 years! I’m ready to chop it all down and plant fruit trees that will actually produce fruits.

  20. 7-2

    Thanks for the fresh fig info everyone. I think I’ll try it when my figs are ripe.

  21. 7-2

    These sound good for a summer snack with ice cream. Have you tried the cow milk icecream??? OMG! You will love it!! :fairy: :shimmy:

  22. 7-2

    I think you are just amazing!

  23. 7-2

    someone say figs?

    Dede will understand

    Just waiting for the figs top ripen here.

  24. 7-2

    Those look delicious! Dates would be good too. Hubby loves date squares! Or rhubarb, or raspberries (I have red respberries ready now).

  25. 7-4

    We’re leaving to go camping for 2 weeks soon. I’m thinking of making these to take with us. How do you think they’d hold up? I will have coolers along and a small mini fridge. Do you think I should refridgerate them while we’re there if it’s going to be warm outside? Thanks for this great recipe!

  26. 7-4

    Supposedly in ancient times they carried fig rolls with them on long trips across the desert, so I figure they’ll hold up pretty good! I’d be sure to wrap them in a sealed container to keep them fresh. If it’s really hot, you might want to refrigerate them. Of course, at home, I keep them out in a cookie jar.

  27. 7-4

    Thank you Mrs. Bennett and Suzanne. My mother in law worked in a biscuit factory during the Depression and told me how she hated making fig newtons. They made Girl Scout cookies too. :chef:

  28. 7-7

    Mine aren’t as photogenic as your’s (need to re-read the food photo tutorials), but they sure taste yummy. I halved the recipe, ended up with 4 smaller balls. My fillings were last season’s dried cherries, strawberry fig preserves, and chocolate chips with chopped pecans.

  29. 1-2

    Ok so like I’m mathmatically challenged (along with a few other things LOL) but what exactly is 7/8 cup? (I LOVE fig newtons , and I want to make these but I don’t know what 7/8 cup is LOL) :cry: .

  30. 6-3

    Oh I do so love figs! I have planted 2 trees this year in hopes of getting figs. My Grandfather Evans had fig trees and I grew up eating figs. I think fresh figs are a developed taste but in my book they are wonderful. I must try this recipe! Suzanne, do you think you could use the dried figs as well as raisins? Used to make fig preserves and I cannot wait till I can again. Love the pie post…and I love pie as well. Can I come live with you? I promise to feed the goats cookies! :happyflower:

  31. 6-3

    Flowerpower, I’m sure you could use figs instead!

  32. 6-3

    Sheila, a cup is 8 ounces so it would be 7 ounces.

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