Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Very Italian Christmas

Every so often, my mom digs up a gem of a recipe from my grandmother. More often than not, those recipes conjure up vivid memories of my childhood, but sometimes they only spark a vague recollection ... that is, until I taste them. That was the case with these cookies, which my mom brought up out of nowhere a few months ago and I finally made on Christmas Eve.

The timing was appropriate, as they're sometimes called Italian Christmas Cookies. I've also heard them referred to as Italian Fig Cookies, Sicilian Dried Fruit and Nut Cookies, and I've even seen versions called Fruit and Walnut Pillows. But these delectable little treats are authentically known as cuccidati. I couldn't find the origin of the word, and not being a speaker of Italian I can barely pronounce it. So let's just go with this ... they're basically Italian Fig Newtons, frosted. And they're amazing.

I don't know why I didn't remember these cookies, because according to my mom, my grandma made them often. I turned to The Google to jog my memory (which was quite a feat - I had no idea how to spell cuccidati and my mom was pronouncing it like the Italian she is). When I finally figured it out and stumbled across a photo, it started coming back to me. Those multi-colored sprinkles are immediately recognizable and should be unforgettable. But it wasn't until I finally bit into one that I remembered them from Christmas' past.

There really is no better way to describe them than as frosted Fig Newtons. There are some slight differences ... where the Fig Newton's filling is very sweet, this is a bit tart, and where the Fig Newton's cookie is super soft, this crust is a bit flaky. But now that I've made these, even given how time-consuming they are, I'll never go back to the packaged variety.

Cuccidati (Italian Fig Cookies)
Ingredients:
For the Filling
1 cup dried figs
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup corn syrup
Zest of 1 lemon

For the Dough
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

For the Icing
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
Multi-colored sprinkles

Directions:
Make filling by pulsing all filling ingredients in a food processor until nearly smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove filling to a small bowl and set aside. Clean food processor bowl.

Make dough by mixing butter and sugar in food processor until smooth. Add egg, vanilla, and milk. Add salt, baking powder, and flour and pulse until dough comes together in a ball. Dough will be soft.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll dough between two pieces of parchment paper. Freeze until dough is firm enough to handle, about 10 minutes.

Roll dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into 2x3-inch squares. Place a scant tablespoon of filling in center of each square and fold the right edge, then left edge over filling (like you're folding a letter). Transfer to ungreased baking sheets, setting slightly apart.

Bake until cookies are lightly browned, about 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking time. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Make icing by stirring confectioners' sugar with lemon juice, adding a bit of water to adjust consistency if necessary (it should be a bit more paste-like than glaze-like, but not as thick as a frosting). When cookies are cooled completely, spoon icing over each and decorate with multi-colored sprinkles (and yes, they must be multi-colored otherwise they're not authentic cuccidati).

2 comments:

  1. I make those too! I leave out the nuts, use honey instead of corn syrup, and add spices and orange zest to my filling, but otherwise my recipe is about the same as yours. They're addictive, and you can adjust the filling to contain whatever dried fruit, candied fruit, nuts, chocolate or even brandy/sweet liquor that you like!

    I usually make mine a few days before I want to serve them, and make the dough and filling the day before I assemble and bake them. That helps the dough firm up, and you don't have to wait for it to freeze and then wait for it to soften just enough to roll out. Ideally, I also let the baked cookies cool completely and wait another several hours (or the next day) before icing and decorating them. And yes, the multicolored round sprinkles are necessary! I made about 4 dozen on Christmas Eve and they're gone already!

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