Christmas [cookie] time is here

December 21, 2018

If you follow me on Instagram or know me in real life, odds are good that you are aware of my Christmas cookie routine. Specifically, the Sicilian fig cookies I make.

Called cucidati, they consist of a not terribly attractive but delicious filling made of figs, dates, cinnamon, tangerine peel, chocolate and walnuts, wrapped up in a mild cookie dough and topped with citrus flavored icing. They are a Christmas tradition, one that I’ve only in recent years discovered that there are numerous versions of.

My maternal grandparents grew up in the same small town in Italy, and their families lived there for as long as we know. This is interesting and convenient because it keeps pretty much my mother’s entire family history not only in Sicily, but in this town – which was extremely handy this past summer when I found records from the only church in town and was able to dig up records going back to the early 1800s.

My grandparents made these cookies every year. I specifically remember my grandfather’s version, a massive cookie stuffed with the filling. With both grandma and grandpa gone, I’ve taken it upon myself to make the cucidati for Christmas each year.

You know me, I’m a sucker for traditions and old school methods. Carrying on a family recipe is very much a me thing to do.

Grandma’s recipe, grandpa’s knife.

This year, I stumbled upon my grandmother’s handwritten recipe for the dough, written on a crinkled rectangle of paper and stuck in my recipe binder.

I’ve just finished my third (and likely final) batch for this year. They’re just so good! I’m outlining the general idea below, for if you’d like to give it a try. If you like Fig Newton’s, these are a must.

The recipe

So my recipe isn’t precise, particularly the filling to cookie ratio. I’m going to give you what I believe is roughly equal. Extra filling will last in fridge or freezer and can be used to top a cookie crust to make chewy yummy bars, or for anything else you can think of.

I promise you, this tastes better than it looks.

For the filling, two 8oz packages of dried figs (remove stems and soak in water briefly to soften), the same or slightly less of pitted dates, about half the skin of a tangerine shredded, a handful or two each of chocolate chips and chopped walnuts, a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon and if you wish, a splash of amaretto. Grind together in a food processor or blender (in 1 or 2 batches as needed) until relatively well chopped and combined. I’ve also done this by hand with a chopping bowl and mezzaluna, do as you prefer.

For the dough:
3 cups sifted flour
3 level teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange or vanilla extract
Up to 1/4 cup water, added slowly as needed.
Add all ingredients minus water and mix. It will start to form a dough; add water a little at a time and continue mixing until it’s sticking together (knead with hands if needed). Break into two rectangles, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours. I also like to chill the filling so it’s a little less sticky.
When ready to make, one rectangle at a time, roll to 1/4″ thickness and cut into rectangles as long as you can and about 3″ across. Flour rolling pin as needed. I like to do this on top of parchment so it’s easier to roll. Using hands, form filling into a somewhat unattractive log as long as the dough’s long side and about 1″ across (unless you prefer thicker/thinner). Lay in center of dough and roll one side tightly up, then the other, press to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut into roughly 1″ cookies. Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 for roughly 15 minutes until dough puffs up a little and sets, starting to gain color.

Tin foil or parchment underneath when you add icing prevents icing from drying on your table.

Let cool on sheets for about 15 minutes, then remove to wire rack to finish cooling. As they cool, mix powdered sugar with water or fresh orange juice (that tangerine will come in handy here). The proportion seems ridiculous, but you need a lot of powdered sugar and very little liquid. Mix to make a spreadable icing. Brush on top of cookies and add sprinkles before icing dries. Let cool the rest of the way. These last well sealed airtight without refrigeration, and I’m told they freeze nicely as well.

I have made these gluten free also, using the roll out cookie recipe from Kelsey Ale’s book Paleo Sweets. It’s a fussy dough and you absolutely must do it on parchment or you’ll never get it to roll without falling apart, but it is possible.

Did you try them? Let me know what you think!
[This post was created in the dark, mobile, with a baby nursing to sleep. Please excuse any errors before I get on a laptop to fix them.]

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