Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Baking: Homemade Oreos and Homemade Fig Newtons' from Joanne Chang

The incomparable Joanne Chang
Christmas Baking is as much a part of the holiday as decorating the tree or singing songs of Christmas.  And if you have children, it's great fun to get them into the kitchen and bake a few cookies.  This year, the press has been full of stories of the demise of the Twinkie and the loss of Ho Hos.  To be honest, I was never a fan of either of these brands.  But if you told me Oreo or Fig Newtons were going out of business, I'd be incensed.  However, all of us who love pulling apart an Oreo to get at the frosting or biting into the gooey center of a Fig Newton would have a backup:  A brilliant baker named Joanne Chang has mastered these treats and shared her recipes for them in "Flour", the baking cookbook named after her Boston bakeries. And another brilliant baker, namely Andrew, has baked them for us and shared his tips for making perfect home-made Oreos and Fig Newtons.  

        I don’t think anyone ever came back from China raving about the desserts they’ve eaten there.  But I do know that a Chinese-American baker who is hugely admired—not just in her hometown where she’s opened three bakeries in ten years—but all over the country since she published her first cookbook  “Flour. Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Cafe” (Chronicle Books 2010).  Joanne Chang and the story of how she came to baking is one of those “only in America” stories that make us love the melting pot –even when it isn’t full of chocolate
      Joanne grew up without desserts.  Except for an occasional plate of orange sections, the Chang household didn’t satisfy any sweet teeth.  Instead, Joanne was introduced to America’s obsession through visits to friends’ houses where she met up with Chips Ahoy, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Jello Pudding and Duncan Hines cake mixes.  And of course, Oreo Cookies.
        Before Joanne started baking, she went to Harvard and graduated with honors in Applied Mathematics and Economics.  I can’t imagine what her parents thought when she quit her job as a Management Consultant to go off and cook professionally.  But she did. And the result is her burgeoning baking empire in Boston where you will now find three Flour Bakeries and Cafes.*  And then of course,  there’s the Chinese restaurant she opened with her husband, Christopher Myers, in 2007.  Called Myers+Chang, it’s in Boston’s South End (1145 Washington Street Boston, MA 02118 Tel: (617) 542-5200).
        Now it did occur to me to ask why on earth Joanne (and Andrew for that matter) decided to bake Homemade Oreos.  Andrew answered that he was sure they’d be better than the originals –richer, more chocolately, more vanilla in the filling, and way better than Nabisco. The only thing Andrew might change about Ms. Chang's recipe is to double the filling.  This recipe isn't doubled but it's easy enough to do.  And here it is.  

Recipe for Homemade Oreo Cookies courtesy of Joanne Chang
To make Joanne Chang’s Oreos, allow 1 hour for the dough to firm before shaping, then several more hours for it to chill before slicing. You can refrigerate the dough for up to 1 week or freeze it for 1 month (defrost in the refrigerator). The log may settle as it chills, so reroll it every 15 minutes if you’re around during the initial chilling so the log stays round. The filling will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Let it come to room temperature before using.
For the Cookies:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
1 egg
1½ cups flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the butter and the sugar until combined. Whisk in the vanilla and melted chocolate. Add the egg and stir until well blended.

2. In another bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to blend them. Using a wooden spoon, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture. The finished dough should feel like Play-Doh. Cover the dough with plastic, and set aside for 1 hour or until firm. 

3. Place the dough on a long sheet of parchment paper. Use your hands to shape it into a rough log, about 10 inches long and 2 ½ inches in diameter. Place the log at the edge of the parchment. Roll the parchment around the log. With your hands on the paper, roll the dough into a tighter log, keeping the diameter the same.

4. Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or until it is firm enough to slice without crumbling.
5. Set the oven at 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. Remove the dough from the paper. Cut the log into 32 slices, each a quarter-inch. Set them on the baking sheets 1 inch apart.
7. Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, checking them often after 15 minutes, or until they are firm when touched in the center.
8. Cool completely on the sheets.

For the Filling:

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ⅔ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch salt

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on low speed for half a minute. Add the vanilla and confectioners sugar and beat until smooth.
2. Beat in the milk and salt. The filling will look and feel like spackle.

3. Place 1 tablespoon of filling on the flat side of 16 cookies. Press the remaining 16 cookies on the filling, flat sides against the cream, to evenly distribute the filling.
4. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Recipe for Joanne Chang’s Fig Newtons from “Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Café” (Chronicle Books 2010)

Instead of the hard crusty commercial fig filling we grew up with, here the figs are a lovely soft layer in the middle of a shortbread pastry crust that is buttery and rich and fall apart flaky.  You can taste the freshness of the figs all the way through.  Here’s the recipe which says it yields 12 cookies.  Since Andrew was serving an assortment of cookies, he cut these in half. If he had not, he would have had a cookie about 5 inches long by 1 ½ inches wide.  That’s some cookie!

To Make the Fig Filling:

2 pints ripe black mission figs or any fresh fig...we used what was in the supermarket.
1 orange, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the Shortbread Dough:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. confectioner's sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

To make the filling: 

Stem the figs, then cut them into quarters, and place in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Add the orange, brown sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes, or until the figs have softened and lost their shape and the filling jam-like. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool for 1-2 hours, or to room temperature (if the jam is soupy, drain a little excess liquid before using as filling). The jam can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

To make the shortbread dough: Using a stand mixer fitted with a the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners' sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. 

Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle to make sure the egg is thoroughly incorporated. In a small bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix for about 15 seconds, or until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl again to make sure all of the flour is thoroughly incorporated.Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap entirely, pressing down to form a disk about 6-inches in diameter and 1-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for about 30  minutes, or until it has firmed up but is still somewhat pliable.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, heat to 350F.
Place the dough disk on a large sheet of parchment paper. Liberally flour the dough on all surfaces, then roll out into a rectangle about 16 x 9 inches and 1/4 inch thick. Don't let the dough stick to the parchment or the rolling pin by adding a little flour as you gently roll the dough out.

Position the rectangle with a long side facing you. Spoon the cooled filling lengthwise along the center of the rectangle in a strip of about 2 1/2 inches wide. 

Lifting the edge of the parchment farthest from you, drape the top of the dough rectangle over the jam, covering the top half of it. Gently peel the parchment away from the dough. 

Repeat with the bottom edge of the parchment, draping the bottom of the dough over the jam. The edges of the dough rectangle should meet in the middle. 

Gently pinch the edges of the dough together, and then turn the rectangle over, so it is facing seam-side-down. Using a pastry brush or your hands to brush any excess flour off the parchment.

Bake for 65-70 minutes, or until the short bread is entirely golden brown. A little fig juice make leak out the sides, but it's fine. 

Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 2 hours, or until completely cool. Using a chef's knife, cut on the diagonal into strips about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

*Flour Cafe and Bakery locations are as follows:

Fort Point Channel 12 Farnsworth St., Boston MA 02210
617.338.4333 Mon-Fri 7a-7p; Sat 8a-6p; Sun 9a-4p

South End 1595 Washington St., Boston MA 02118
617.267.4300 Mon-Fri 7a-9p; Sat 8a-6p; Sun 8a-5p

Central Square 190 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge MA 02139
617.225.2525 Mon-Fri 7a-8p; Sat 8a-6p; Sun 9a-5p


  1. Those cookies look so good! I love Joanne Chang. Her banana bread recipe is far superior to other recipes I have tried.

    One day I must try the Oreoes but I'm scared I might like too much.

    1. A temptation that's hard to resist for sure Lauren! But well worth the calories!