Baking

Christmas in May

May 10, 2017

What makes you think of Christmas?

Is it chilly weather, or the scent of fresh pine? For me, it’s cuccidati, the Sicilian Christmas cookies many of my family members make. The cookie itself is a light, slightly citrus flavored dough topped with a little homemade frosting and sprinkles, but the real star is the ground fig and date filling that rests inside, flavored with cinnamon and citrus peel and studded with little bits of chocolate.

The cookies are great, but they’re also a bit of work. And they’re for Christmas! Sure I may be thinking about them in early spring, but it’s a Christmas thing! What am I going to do with a huge batch of out-of-season cookies?

Then inspiration struck. It all started with this recipe, from The View From Great Island. It’s a Paleo Fruit and Nut Bread that is gluten free and dairy free, absolutely packed with dried fruit and nuts. Ripe bananas add sweetness so no sugar is necessary, and flour is replaced with almond meal, making a low sugar, high protein loaf that is well suited for a slightly sweet breakfast or a not too decadent dessert.

I’ve made it several times, following the recipe to varying degrees. It’s a dense, hearty bread that doesn’t rise much when baked. The original recipe includes suggestions for fruit and nuts to include, but notes that you can use nearly any combination. I’ve done “kitchen sink” bread, with cashew pieces, almond slivers, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, dried mulberries, chopped figs and whatever else I have in the cabinet. I’ve also done a “tropical” style, with only cashew pieces, coconut flakes and chopped dried pineapple which was a hit (my grandfather even liked it, and he was at this point about as difficult about food as one can be).

My mother recently asked me to make a cake for brunch, and I thought this paleo loaf would be the perfect choice; not too sweet, with no refined sugar, dairy or wheat, so overall, not a bad choice. As I sat eating my slice, I got a chunk of dried fig and a thought popped into my head…

“Do a cuccidati loaf.”

Do it.

So I did. And it was honestly, just about everything I hoped for. It doesn’t mimic the cookies precisely, and the pieces are chunks instead of ground together, but the flavors I was craving were all present. After a day or two in the fridge, I think it may have been even better than the first day!

Did I mention it’s easy to make? Any version of this loaf is quick and easy to make, with minimal mess. You have your pan, your bowl (maybe an extra small bowl if your coconut oil needs to be softened), measuring cups and spoons, and something to stir with. This was fast and simple, with a toddler helping to dump ingredients and mix, no less.

So, here’s the recipe.

Paleo Cuccidati Loaf

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds (can be omitted if you don’t have)
  • 1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1 cup chopped dried dates
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips (check they’re vegan, if that matters)
  • zest of one tangerine.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a loaf pan and line with parchment if you like (I always put a strip of parchment that covers most of the wide edges so I can easily lift the loaf out once it’s begun to cool).
  2. Mash the two bananas well with a fork, then whisk in the two eggs and coconut oil.
  3. Stir in almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and mix well.
  4. Add the dried fruit, nuts, tangerine zest and chocolate chips and fold in until evenly distributed.
  5. Pour into the pan, trying to get it relatively even. This will not rise, so baked, it will look roughly like it does raw; smooth lumps and try to get it even thickness.
  6. Bake for 40-60 minutes, checking periodically. I’ve found that the time varies based on what’s in it, so watch for the edges beginning to turn gold, the center setting, and of course, check with a toothpick in the center; if it comes out clean, the loaf is ready.
  7. Let the bread cool before attempting to slice it; chill it overnight if you wish, then store any leftovers in the refrigerator since this is a moist bread.

And that’s it! If you missed it earlier, the original recipe is the Paleo Fruit and Nut Bread from The View From Great Island.

Now I’m not going to say this is a beautiful loaf of bread. It had nice marbling when you cut it, but it isn’t a glamorous looking baked good. However, it’s well worth it. So, if you find yourself craving Christmas cookies in May, or whatever month it may be, I hope you enjoy this cheat to get the flavor of Christmas cookies without all the work.

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