These figs can be served as a compote over dark chocolate ice cream or alongside a savory custard; chopped up and stirred into a relish or rice salad; and paired with bacon as a topping for creamy polenta.

Making the quick caramel is easy — and worth it. Including lemon juice reduces the risk of crystallization, which is a common problem when you’re making caramel. Prepare all the ingredients ahead so you are ready to mix in the spices, vinegar and juices just as the syrup caramelizes in the pot.

They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature indefinitely.


  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • Half of a 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 dried allspice berry
  • 2 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 fresh thyme stem
  • About 11 ounces (2 cups packed) dried black Mission figs (stemmed), each cut into halves or quarters

Step 1

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat. Turn off the heat; add the lemon juice and then the sugar, a little at a time, so no granules cling to the sides of the pan. Do not stir.

Step 2

Return the heat to medium-high, so the mixture comes to a boil. This will take about 2 minutes. Do not stir or shake. The bubbles will be rapid at first; as the syrup thickens, they will grow larger and slower.

Step 3

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, orange juice, cinnamon stick, star anise, allspice, peppercorns and thyme in a medium bowl.

Step 4

Watch the syrup closely. As soon as the entire surface becomes an even, light caramel color, carefully but all at once add the vinegar-spice mixture. The caramel will bubble up; cook for another 30 seconds, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. If the caramel seizes at this point, it will quickly remelt.

Step 5

Once it is smooth, turn off the heat. Stir in the figs, and let cool. Discard the cinnamon stick and any easy-to-find whole spices.

Adapted from “The Nimble Cook: New Strategies for Great Meals That Make the Most of Your Ingredients,” by Ronna Welsh (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019).

For a printer-friendly and scalable version of this recipe, view it here.

The nutritional analysis is based on 1/4 cup servings.


Calories: 250; Total Fat: 0 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 10 mg; Carbohydrates: 65 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 56 g; Protein: 1 g.