Figs, Chocolate, and Spice

I thought my little fig tree was done for. Three or four years ago it suffered severe die-back during a particularly cold winter. By mid-spring the branches still showed no signs of life, no leaves unfurling, no baby fruits. I thought about yanking it out and starting over.

A friend who knows a lot more about gardening than I do recommended I prune it way back, almost to the ground. It was the right thing to do. Though the tree grew back oddly ~ it’s more bush than tree now, with lots of arm-like branches reaching out from its protected corner spot near my garage, it has repaid my effort to save it by supplying me with prodigious amounts of figs for the last two years.

They are Brown Turkey figs, perhaps not the prettiest variety, but they are honey-sweet when ripe and they make excellent preserves. Over the last few weeks I’ve made four or five batches (I lost count), starting with this simple one, and adding/switching out spices and other ingredients with each variation. (The batch pictured above has Italian prune plums mixed in.)

Eventually, through a sort of stream-of-consciousness process (“What if I toss in a star anise and a few cloves? I’ll bet a splash of Cognac would be good with those warm spices. But wait, what about Cognac and bittersweet chocolate?”) I ended up with this recipe for Spiced Fig Preserves with C.

Have you ever stirred chocolate into preserves? This one little step adds luster to an everyday jam, deepening the flavor and imparting a smooth, buttery texture. A splash of Cognac makes it luxurious. This is the jam to make now for giving away at the holidays, the one to spread on a fat slice of toasted brioche, or roll up in a crêpe.

I’ve been enjoying it for breakfast spread over honey-roasted peanut butter on good whole grain bread. Mornings are cooler now, and the warm complementary flavors of fig, Cognac, chocolate, and spice are welcome as we move, once again, from summer into fall.

Makes about 3 pints

Spiced Fig Preserves with Chocolate and Cognac

Fig preserves are easy to make. There's no need to peel the fruit, and no need to add commercial pectin, as the preserves set nicely on their own. Stirring chocolate into the preserves gives them a luxurious quality. These are great preserves to give away as holiday gifts.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds ripe figs (I use Brown Turkey)
  • 2 1/2 cups vanilla sugar (see Notes)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus 3 strips zest
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole star anise
  • About 10 whole cloves
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 160 ml (2/3 cup) Cognac
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (see Notes)

Instructions

Cut the tops of the stems off the figs and quarter them lengthwise. Place them in a heavy-bottomed non-reactive saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and strips of zest. Tie the cinnamon stick, star anise, and cloves into a cheesecloth bundle and add it to the pot. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the pot; toss in the pod. Gently mix everything together with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon and let the figs macerate for 30 minutes.

Have ready 6 half-pint sterilized jars and their rings and lids. Place 2 or 3 small bowls or plates in the freezer (you will use these to test the jelling point of the preserves).

Set the pot over medium to medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cook at a lively simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened and turned a couple of shades darker. Remove one of the small bowls or plates from the freezer and spoon a small amount of jam onto it. Return the plate to the freezer for 2 minutes. To test if the preserves are done, nudge the mound gently with your finger and tilt the plate. The preserves should move sluggishly; if the mixture seems runny, it is not quite ready and you should continue to cook it for another couple of minutes before testing once more. (If you're testing with a candy thermometer, it should read 220 degrees F.)

When the preserves are ready, remove and discard the spice bundle. Stir in the Cognac and let it bubble for a minute or so; don't let up on the stirring. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chocolate, stirring until it is fully melted and thoroughly mixed into the preserves.

Ladle the hot preserves into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims clean if necessary with a clean, damp cloth, and screw the lids on the jars. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove the jars and set them upright on a clean kitchen towel. Within a couple of minutes you should hear the jar lids "ping" signifying that they have sealed properly. Let the jars cool to room temperature before storing in a cool, dark place. They will keep for up to a year. Store any jars that have not sealed properly in the refrigerator and use those first.

NOTES
To make vanilla sugar, simply submerge a vanilla bean pod in a canister of sugar and leave it there.

I use small bittersweet chocolate baking chips that I buy at La Cuisine, in Alexandria, VA. The brand is Michel Cluizel. The chips are smaller and flatter than supermarket chocolate chips, and better quality. They melt quickly and easily into the jam.

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15 Responses to Figs, Chocolate, and Spice

  1. peggylussier September 3, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

    Oh my does that sound good! Hopefully I’ll have a supply off my tree next year.

    • Domenica Marchetti September 4, 2017 at 9:43 am #

      Fingers crossed for you, Peggy. It’s a treat to have a fig tree that actually produces!

  2. Mark A. Bauman September 3, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    This looks phenomenal. Cloves are one of the very few things I don’t care for and would probably omit. Besides using like “figgy Nutella”, as you’ve pictured, I might try to make some Sicilian Cuccidati, or Rugelach with the mixture. How else have you used the preserves?

    • Domenica Marchetti September 4, 2017 at 9:46 am #

      Good question, Mark. This is the first time I’ve made these preserves so I’ve mostly been enjoying them on toast. I’m sure they would be a good filling for crostata or, as you mention, as a cookie filling. And I’ll bet they would be a good substitute for “scrucchjata” (grape jam) in Abruzzese calcionelli.

  3. carol L September 3, 2017 at 4:25 pm #

    This sounds amazing. Mark’s idea for the Sicillian Cuccidati is also a great idea. Thanks for sharing.
    Carol Luciano

  4. Paola September 3, 2017 at 5:54 pm #

    I have never thought to stir chocolate through a preserve – this sounds just spectacular Domenica

    • Domenica Marchetti September 4, 2017 at 9:49 am #

      Thank you. I’m trying to remember when I first came across the idea of mixing chocolate into jam. Most recipes I’ve seen use cocoa powder but I love the taste and texture of the melted bittersweet chocolate.

  5. elisa September 4, 2017 at 9:21 am #

    OMG, this is my kind of preserve! Although I never had a fig tree, right now I rely on Trader Joe’s fresh figs by the case, I cook them whole, add Fra Angelico and sugar, till they are like a paste, put them through the food processor and …..freeze them flat in 1/2 gallon freezer bags. Thank you for the recipe, I have to try it with chocolate or….Nutella…
    Parla al tuo albero in italiano e digli “…dai,!,dai!, chi ti credi di essere!, cresci!
    Un abbraccio

    • Domenica Marchetti September 4, 2017 at 9:52 am #

      Grazie, cara Elisa. Thank you for sharing your recipe. The paste sounds delicious. How do you use it? BTW, I made a similar version using Amaretto in place of Cognac, and I just made a batch of fig ice cream with a splash of Amaretto in it. Generally I’m not that fond of either Amaretto or Fra Angelico, but I think they have their uses, and mixing them with figs is one of them!

  6. elisa September 4, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

    Domenica, if you are not fond of Amaretto or Fra Angelico, try Nocino ,Kahlua or Orange Liqueur. You ask how I use it. I let thaw what I need and use in muffins, pancakes, waffles and…..with an Umbrian recipe “Pappardelle Dolci” (during the Xmas Holidays). Although they also call this recipe “Maccheroni Dolci” it is easier to make it with pappardelle…..

  7. ciaochowlinda September 5, 2017 at 9:07 pm #

    Oh Domenica – I have serious fig envy looking at your bountiful fruits and delicious marmalade. I’ve never tried putting chocolate into marmalade, but that brings it to a whole new level. After almost ten years of practically no output from my fig tree, I refuse to baby it anymore by covering it for the winter. If it doesn’t make it through this winter, then that’s it. BUT, I dug out a sapling a couple of years ago and put it in a pot. It survived the winter in the garage, and is now planted in a protected spot at Ron’s shore house, where the climate is more temperate. I have high hopes for this transplant, since many of my friends with figs at their shore houses have had great harvests. Wish me luck.

  8. pblevitt September 5, 2017 at 9:31 pm #

    Brilliant! The addition of the chocolate must take the preserves to a completely different level. The aroma in the kitchen must be absolutely heavenly…

  9. Frank Fariello September 9, 2017 at 8:46 am #

    You’re so lucky to have your own fig tree. The figs you buy in the store just don’t have any taste Didn’t realize they could grow in this climate!

  10. Adri Barr Crocetti September 9, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

    Oh my, but this sounds lovely, a harbinger of a most welcome change of season. May the seas soon cool, and may the leaves begin to fall.

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