Recipe for classic fig rolls (aka fig newtons), but made with wholemeal spelt flour. The fig paste is lightly spiced and gently sweetened and the pastry casing is delicious in its own right with subtle notes of lemon. These biscuits are easier to make than you might think.
Fig rolls are one of those biscuits that divide opinion. They have a Marmite, love them or hate them quality. Needless to say I’m in the appreciative camp. So, I was delighted that Paul Hollywood chose these childhood treats for the technical challenge on Great British Bake Off last week. I was surprised he chose such an easy challenge, but I’m not complaining. Finally, it gave me the oomph required to bake these delicious cookies. They have been on my must try list for years.
For a similar, but more refined Middle Eastern version take a look at my Maamoul recipe.
Great British Bake Off
Every year I try and make something from the current series of the Great British Bake Off. Last year I made a spinach and lemon cake for #CakeWeek. It was my super simple version of Le Gâteau Vert and most delicious it was too. Amongst other recipes, I’ve also made chocolate Viennese whirls, triple chocolate bread and Black Forest gâteau. This year it was the fig rolls in #BiscuitWeek that grabbed my attention.
But it’s #BreadWeek tonight, so who knows, I might be inspired all over again.
Fig rolls are a classic British biscuit – or so I thought. Turns out, they originated in ancient Egypt. The commercial variety that we know and sometimes love were first produced in 1891 by Charles Roser from Philadelphia in the United States. He patented the automated process which was almost immediately bought by the Kennedy Biscuit Company. Fig rolls are known as fig newtons in the States, so called as the factory that made them was in Newton, Massachusetts. I can’t find out when the fig roll came to the UK, but suffice to say, it’s been around for quite a long time.
There is some dispute as to whether fig rolls are a cake or a biscuit. I think this might be because fig newton casings are softer and more cake like, whilst ours are crumbly and more biscuit like. But in the UK, fig paste is encased in an enriched sweet pastry and chopped into small flattened rectangles. This makes it a biscuit in my book. Plus you’ll find them in the biscuit aisle in shops and supermarkets not the cake aisle.
I’ve made a figgy bread roll in the past, but had completely forgotten about it until I started writing this post. The filling for that is a bit more elaborate than for these fig rolls, but it’s another fun bake to make.
Fig Roll Adventures
My mother was quite strict when it came to sweet treats. Well, apart from her famous puddings. She certainly didn’t believe in buying biscuits anyway. My introduction to fig rolls came when I first went to stay with a friend of my mother’s at the age of seven. She lived on a remote Cornish smallholding which you could only reach by tractor or by walking a mile down a steep and sometimes treacherous path. She didn’t have a tractor, so walking it was.
The house had no electricity and in those early days, no running water either. I used to love staying there, it always felt like a real adventure. Down to the well to collect water and to bed by candlelight. Anyway, once a week, a grocery van used to stop at the top of the aforementioned path just so she could catch up on supplies. And one of those supplies was always a packet of fig rolls.
Many’s the time we made that journey across the river and up the track. We had to cross an old rickety wooden bridge and I always wondered if I’d make it safely across before it collapsed into the turgid water below. But it was always worth it. Those fig rolls were such a treat.
Wholemeal Spelt Fig Rolls
I found lots of recipes for fig rolls, both online and in some of my baking books. But in the end I based mine on the Paul Hollywood recipe that the bakers used on #GBBO. His was simpler than most, used less sugar and seemed more like the “real” thing. Obviously I changed it somewhat. I added a few extra spices, changed the method to make it easier and used wholemeal spelt flour for my pastry casing. Oh, and I swapped Paul’s vanilla for lemon zest in the biscuit dough.
Fig Paste Filling
The fig filling is really easy to make. It’s just a question of bunging all of the ingredients into a pan, then simmering them and blitzing. It’s best to do this bit first so the fig paste can cool and firm up whilst you’re getting on with making the pastry.
I didn’t have any stem ginger, so I used some crystallised ginger as I always have a jar of that to hand. Although I adore cinnamon, I thought the quantity Paul used might overpower the other flavours, so I used less of this and added a pinch of ground cloves and a grating of nutmeg instead.
Making the Biscuit Dough
Although the dough casing is more like pastry than a snappy biscuit, it’s made using the creaming method rather than the rubbing in one. It’s very straightforward. I just use a bowl and wooden spoon for this, but you can use a handheld or stand mixer if you prefer.
When it came to rolling the pastry out, I found I made a larger rectangle than the one Paul stipulated in his recipe. Perhaps this is why I made sixteen fig rolls rather than only twelve. In order to make a neat (ish) rectangle I cut ragged bits off the edges and pressed them into the sides which weren’t quite wide enough. The dough is quite malleable, so this wasn’t difficult. I wasn’t going to waste any of it, that’s for sure.
Filling the Fig Rolls
This was the bit, I felt, where it could all go hideously wrong. But it didn’t. It was all a lot easier than I was expecting. The wholemeal spelt pastry cracks quite easily, so don’t expect your fig rolls to look perfectly smooth. Mine certainly weren’t. But then I like a homemade look.
I baked mine for fifteen minutes as I wanted to ensure the biscuit dough was properly cooked. Plus I wanted them to look properly golden. But if you prefer a paler fig roll, try baking for twelve minutes instead.
Finished Fig Rolls
Once baked, the fig rolls just need to cool, then they can be eaten or stored in a tin until needed. They’ll last a few days, but the pastry gets steadily softer as the days go on. Having said that, this batch lasted five days and the biscuit dough held together just fine. I took one in to work with my packed lunch on day two and another on day four. They’re quite substantial, so I reckoned one was enough. As for the rest, CT and I polished the lot off at home.
I doubt Paul would have been impressed by the unevenness of my bakes, but I was delighted with the result. They tasted much as I remember them and CT thought so too. Only better, because they were homemade, healthier and bigger.
Other Classic Biscuit Recipes You Might Like
- Bourbon biscuits via Tin and Thyme
- Breton butter biscuits via A Baking Journey
- Chocolate hobnobs via Donna Dundas
- Chocolate Viennese whirls via Tin and Thyme
- Custard creams via Lost In Food
- Garibaldi biscuits via Tin and Thyme
- Ginger shortbread via Tin and Thyme
- Gluten-free custard creams via Tin and Thyme
- Jammy dodgers via Veggie Desserts
- Nigella’s florentines via Tin and Thyme
- Not so jammy dodgers via Tin and Thyme
- Scottish shortbread via Farmersgirl Kitchen
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you make these wholemeal spelt fig rolls, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
Homemade Fig Rolls. PIN IT.
Fig Rolls with Wholemeal Spelt Biscuit Pastry.
- 200 g dried soft figs Can use dried hard figs, but will need to cook them for longer.
- 20 g crystalised ginger Can substitue for a large ball of stem ginger in syrup.
- 20 g muscovado sugar I used dark muscovado.
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves
- grating of nutmeg
- 60 g unsalted butter - softened
- 40 g light muscovado sugar
- pinch of fine sea salt
- ½ lemon - zested (optional)
- 175 g wholemeal spelt flour
- ⅓ tsp baking powder
- 1 medium egg
- Place the figs in a small saucepan and add enough water to just cover them. Add the ginger and sugar.
- Bring to the boil, then simmer, stirring occassionaly for about 8 minutes or until the figs are cooked through and the water has evaporated.
- Add the dried spices and purée with a stick blender or mini food processor until you have a rough paste. Leave to cool and firm up.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the salt and lemon zest and cream some more.
- Beat in the egg.
- Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix until it's mostly incorporated. Bring it all together with your hands to form a soft dough. If it's really soft, you may want to cover it and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up. But you shouldn't need to do this.
- Heat the oven to 200℃ (400℉, Gas 6).
- On a floured surgace, roll out the dough to a rectangle measuring 21cm by 27cm. It should be about 4mm thick. Cut lenghtways into two strips measuring 10 1/2 cm by 27cm.
- Spoon half of the fig mixture down the middle of one strip and the rest down the middle of the other strip. Neaten it up with your fingers, if needed.
- Bring the two sides of each strip of pastry up to join in the middle and roughly crimp with your fingers to seal.
- Turn the rolls over so the seem is at the bottom and cut each one into eight equal sized pieces.
- Line a baking sheet with baking paper (or silicone mat) and gently transfer the rolls, placing a little apart. With a fork, press each one gently down to flatten it slightly and to add a pattern on the top.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
I’m sharing my wholemeal spelt fig rolls with Jo’s Kitchen Larder and Apply to Face Blog for #BakingCrumbs. I’m also sending them to #CookBlogShare, which is hosted this week by Everyday Healthy Recipes.