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Christmas has become our Italian holiday (where Easter we go full out Polish). And if there is something I’ve learned from living among Italians, they love their cookies. At any family gathering from weddings to funerals, there are platters upon platters of homemade cookies.
So for day 5 of our 12 days of cookies and candy, here are cucidati, traditional Italian Christmas cookies. I first made these fig cookies a few years ago. After making them once, it wasn’t hard to decide that they would make a yearly appearance.
While the process can seem laborious, these cookies are very forgiving. It’s hard to mess up the dough or filling and they still taste just as good even when they get lopsided, split through, or whatever. There is also little consensus besides figs as to what should be in the filling. So, I take that as liberty to do whatever you want with it! I’ll provide the recipe I’ve followed, but also make suggestions of what you could do differently.
These keep indefinitely at room temperature. So, make them well ahead of time without any worries. Or gift them! They can also be put in the fridge at various points while making them, so they work with any schedule. I’ll clue you in below.
cucidati (Italian fig cookies)
Makes about 60 cookies
[for the dough]:
4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
16 tbs (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into tbs pieces
[for the filling]:
12 oz dried figs (about 2 cups), stems removed and chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup candied orange peel, chopped (I make my own, but you can buy it too. Other dried fruit would work too — craisins come to mind.)
1/3 cup almonds, lightly toasted and chopped
3 oz semisweet chocolate chips or chopped bar (I’m sure you could omit these and substitute more dried fruit and/or nuts)
1/3 cup apricot preserves (thinking marmalade would also do the trick)
3 tbs dark rum (I have used Kalhua and Vodka instead with barely any difference in taste. You could omit altogether and use coffee or tea or probably even water instead.)
1/2 to 1 tsp finely ground coffee (optional)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
Multicolored nonpareils (not necessary, but so much fun)
[for the dough]:
In either a food processor or kitchen mixer, pulse together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt until combined. Add butter pieces and pulse until finely incorporated. (It is harder to accomplish this in a kitchen mixer, but do the best you can. The amount of dough was hard on my food processor so I tried it out with my kitchen mixer this year. The difference in dough was negligible. I will likely do it again next year, or do it in halves in the processor.)
Add eggs all at once and pulse until dough forms into a ball. Scrape onto a clean surface, then flatten into a square-ish shape about 1inch thick. Tightly wrap with plastic wrap and place in fridge until needed. (I’ve left it in the fridge for up to a day. It could likely go longer.)
[for the filling]:
If any of your dried fruit is especially hard and dry, place in a saucepan, cover with water, and then bring to a boil. Drain and allow to cool before proceeding.
In a medium bowl, mix together all the filling ingredients. Scrape mixture into a food processor and pulse until a thick, conglomerate paste. Transfer back into the bowl. Use right away, or cover and place in fridge until needed. (I’ve held it there for two days. Could probably go longer.)
[to finish & bake]:
Position oven racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat to 350.
Get your egg wash ready and on hand.
Take dough out of fridge. Knead a few times until malleable. Roll into a cylinder, then cut into 12 equal pieces.
Take filling and divide into 12 equal amounts. (Even though it is sticky, I usually turn it out onto a surface and use a knife and my hands to do this.)
Taking one piece of dough, roll out into a rectangular-ish shape about 3 inches wide and 12 inches long. It is not necessary to be precise, but the closer you are to these measurements, the easier it will be later. Repeat with remaining dough pieces. Once all the pieces are rolled out, brush each piece with the egg wash.
Starting with one piece of washed dough, take one portion of filling and spread it evenly down the length of the dough. (Again, the filling is very sticky, but I still find the best way to do this is to pick it up with my hands, roll into a stout log, then place on the dough and use my fingers to spread and stretch it down the length of the dough.) Repeat with remaining filling and dough pieces. (Then wash your hands! :)
Starting with one fig lined piece of dough, roll the dough up and around the filling, bring the long ends together. Overlap or pinch to seal the dough edges, then roll into a rough 15inch cylinder. Repeat with remaining pieces.
Cut each cylinder into 5, roughly 3 inch long pieces. Now, you have two options as to shaping:
Cut 6-8 short slashes on a piece. Curve into a rainbow and then place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces.
Not fully cutting in half lengthwise, cut two slashes on either end of a piece. Gently separate and curve the split ends away from each other, forming an “X”. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces.
(At this point, I have popped the cookies into the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, and baked them later. I did it for only about an hour, but I’m sure they could go longer if tightly covered.)
Right before baking, brush all the cookies with egg wash. Sprinkle with nonpareils. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until cookies are just touched with gold on top and nicely golden browned on the bottom.
Let cool on pans, then transfer to airtight container. These keep indefinitely. Enjoy!
From Cookies Unlimited.