Nut bars with fresh figs and orange zest

Two weeks ago I ended up in Portland for a couple of hours on a Sunday and went on a mini urban photography tour before my train left in the late afternoon.

My mom and I went looking for images: glass, brick, chairs; books, flowers, hats and, achingly, props in a boutique I can’t afford. It was a souvenir-free afternoon, frivolous and spontaneous as they come but without the consumer’s shopping bag. No books for the nightstand queue. Not even a latte.

My train was delayed, then delayed again on the tracks. I received texts that all was well at home. I had no appointments or deadlines. I felt lucky, like the traveler’s traveler, able to take extra hours with a grain of salt, without the fear of schedule reprisals.

I read. I finished one book and started another. I tried to capture a photo of the sunset through the window. I offered drawing paper to a boy behind me (he already had some). He was crying – the train was stopped not two minutes from the station where his father was waiting, or had been until his wife called to explain the situation. I went back to my book, back to Old Honolulu in 1891. From where else could I escape so well? My feet on a metal footrest, the sun down now and a cocoon of white noise.

When I saw a friend (Chie!) at the co-op carrying around a pint of fresh figs this week it was like a train had stopped momentarily. What does the moment hold? Figs! It was time to grab some or be ferried off, away from their short season and into fall.

A local produce shop near me didn’t have any more yesterday so I drove to where I could find them, glad I had a chance to buy two pints, even if it was because the first batch ended up tasting like sawdust.

My mental notes about raw nut and fruit bars now include two new guidelines. First, adding extra water (beyond any used for soaking dried fruits) will make the mixture too sticky. If you try to pick one up like a cookie, it won’t work. And oats, other than those used as a topping, will make the bar chalky, especially if you grind them up and mix them into the sticky mixture in hopes that the oats will absorb the added water.

My first batch turned out like this. See the color? Sawdust.

I used a lot of ingredients in the first batch. Almonds, coconut, oats (and more oats), sunflower seeds, dates – but, really, I didn’t need all that. You need very little to make a good bar.

Nut bars with fresh figs and orange zest

1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw hazelnuts
one dry pint fresh figs
1-2 tablespoons almond or other nut/seed butter (optional)
1½ teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a 9-inch brownie pan with parchment or waxed paper.

Pour hazelnuts and almonds onto a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for five minutes. Stir and bake for another 3-5 minutes, until the skins on the hazelnuts crack and the nuts are fragrant.

Remove from oven and place in a food processor. Blend until the nuts are evenly chopped.

Scrape them into a large mixing bowl. Add one tablespoon of almond butter and another if you like and mix well with a wooden spoon. It’s important to mix the nut butter in by hand. Too long in the food processor and you’ll end up with giant lump of nut butter.

Refit the food processor with the bowl and blade. Wash the figs and pat dry. Set two or three aside for slicing. Quarter the rest or place them whole into the food processor bowl and blend until puréed.

Add maple syrup, vanilla and orange zest and pulse to blend.

Mix ¾ cup of fig mixture into the chopped nuts and stir together with a wooden spoon.

Press mixture into the bottom of the pan with your hands or top with a second sheet of waxed paper and roll it smooth with a small jar or glass.

Top the nut mixture with the rest of the fig puree and spread over the top, all the way to the edges.

Slice the reserved figs (I used two) and nestle the slices into the layer of purée.

Freeze for an hour and cut into bars. Once cut, move them to the refrigerator or keep in the freezer, as you wish.

20 thoughts on “Nut bars with fresh figs and orange zest

  1. I love your story about walking around downtown and taking pictures with your mom. The story and the photos made me want to grab my camera and do the same. And, yes, the nut bars with figs do look inviting.

  2. I felt like I was visiting Portland today! I love those little canisters with the measuring tape? What store was that?? Fantastic stuff in there I bet! I also think your recipe is awesome.. you’ve made this up all on your own? You’re really so talented!!

    • Oh, I know. Can you believe those cute little tins? This was the store where I wanted to buy beautiful bottles and lamps. But it was satisfying enough to walk around and look for beauty. Hope you’re able to visit for real someday!

    • I’m the only one who likes fresh figs in our family and, like you, I really love them! We lost a willow a few years ago and I’ve begun to desire a fig tree to replace it. Not sure I could get backup support, though!

  3. Love your urban photos! I haven’t been to Portland in way too long…I may need to plan a weekend soon. Your fig bars are marvelous! I’m always looking for more after school treats for my boys and these will be perfect. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Hannah! Well, I can’t say my kids liked them (they aren’t fig people) but hopefully your boys will enjoy them if you try. I’d still like to tweak it a bit. Maybe next season? And, yes, a trip to Portland is always a good thing. Hope you can make it down again sometime soon!

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