Everyone has a favorite Christmas cookie.
I’m sure you have one too. Maybe it was a recipe your mother or grandmother made every year when you were a child, that filled the house with the sweet smells of butter and flour and sugar, that signaled Christmas was here. (Maybe you even got to lick the bowl.)
For me, this is that cookie.
Every year at Christmas, my mother’s Italian-American family would pile the dessert table with sweets of all kinds, but this was the treat I went straight for.
It’s a traditional Sicilian Christmas cookie, filled with figs and nuts and topped with rainbow sprinkles (like any respectable Sicilian cookie is.) It’s not unlike a fig newton, but so much better that I hesitate to even draw a comparison.
Back in the old days, Sicilian women had to shell the walnuts individually and grind up the dried fruit and nuts in a hand-crank grinder. Lucky for us, the process is much speedier today with cooking appliances to do all that! Nevertheless, making 4 dozen cuccidati is no small undertaking, so I recommend a sous-chef or two to keep you company while you work. Italian Christmas music optional!
Sicilian Fig Cookies (Cuccidati)
Adapted from Ciao Italia
(Makes 4 dozen)
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup shortening (or 3/4 cup of coconut oil, which is less traditional but arguably healthier)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 cups dried figs
2 cups dates
1 1/2 cups raisins
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 cup walnuts or almonds, coarsely chopped
Egg wash: One large egg white with one tablespoon water (add more as needed)
Decoration: Colored sprinkles (little round balls, not the kind you’d put on ice cream)
Make the dough: Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a large bowl. Add the sugar and stir well. Cut in the shortening or coconut oil with a fork and work the mixture until it looks like corn meal.
In a bowl, beat the egg, vanilla and milk together. Add to the flour mixture and work the mixture into a rough dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth. The dough will be soft. Divide dough into four pieces, wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 45 minutes.
(If you’re using coconut oil, either don’t refrigerate at all, or bring the dough back to room temperature before you roll it out. Otherwise, the dough will be too hard.)
Make the filling: Grind the figs, dates and raisins in a meat grinder or food processor until coarse or coarsely chop. Place the mixture in a bowl, add all the remaining filling ingredients and mix well. The mixture will be thick. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375˚ F and lightly grease cookie sheets with butter.
Work one piece of dough at a time, keeping the remaining dough chilled. On a floured surface roll out each piece of dough. I usually roll long rectangles about 8 or 9 inches long by 5 or 6 inches wide.
Spoon the filling in the center and roll over to form a log.
With a sharp knife, cut the log into 3-inch long pieces. Brush with egg wash and add sprinkles. Transfer to greased baking sheets.
Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Buon Appetito e Buon Natale!
What’s YOUR favorite Christmas cookie?
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