Intro: Sicilian Christmas Fig Cookies
Every year, I make my father-in-law fig cookies for Christmas. I've been using the same recipe every time, but this year, I came across a new fig cookie recipe over at Food52 that caught my interest. Also known as cucciddati or buccellati, these cookies have become my new Christmas favorite and I really hope my father-in-law loves them too!
Now, be forewarned. This is definitely a labor of love, but it is SO worth it!
Before you begin this journey, be sure to read through the entire post so you can plan accordingly. I promise you will not regret the time you invest in this recipe!
Step 1: Gather the Ingredients
- 1 pound dried figs (500 g)
- 1/2 cup pistachios, shelled
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 cup raisins (I used golden raisins)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2/3 cup orange marmalade or apricot jam (I used apricot jam...YUM!)
- zest of 2 oranges
- pinch of cinnamon (I used about 1/8 teaspoon)
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- pinch of salt (I left this out as I used salted butter)
- 7 ounces chilled butter, diced
- 3 whole eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, beaten
- 2 egg whites (I recommend using 1/3 cup pasteurized egg whites)
- 2 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- sprinkles (optional)
Step 2: Prepare the Figs
Put the figs in a bowl and cover with boiling water to soften. Let them sit for at least 15 minutes.
Drain the water then cut off all the stems. Quarter the figs and add to the bowl of a food processor; process the figs until they resemble a paste. Transfer the fig paste to a large bowl.
NOTE: if you don't have a food processor you can use a blender.
Step 3: Prepare the Nuts and Complete the Filling
Add the walnuts and pistachios to the bowl of the food processor (not the pine nuts). NO, you don't need to clean it...we're just going to add it all together anyway. Remember, this is a time-consuming recipe, so don't make it more difficult for yourself! :)
Process the nuts just until you have a rough chop. NOTE: if you don't have a food processor, you can either give them a rough chop with a knife or use a nut chopper.
Add the nuts to the bowl with the fig paste, along with the remaining filling ingredients: pine nuts, raisins, honey, marmalade or jam, zest and cinnamon.
Mix until well combined. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, preferably overnight
Step 4: Prepare the Pastry
Place the flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Yes, this is the same food processor as I used for the figs and nuts, but now you MUST clean it first. Sorry folks...I don't think you want bits of figs and nuts in the beautiful pastry.
Pulse the dry ingredients to combine.
Add the cold butter pieces and pulse just until the mixture looks more like bread crumbs.
Transfer to a large bowl and add the eggs and yolk. Mix it all together until you have a nice smooth dough.
I started out with a wooden spoon but quickly decided it was much easier using my hands instead. It will look like it won't come together well, but it really will...I promise.
If you find it a bit too sticky, you can add a bit of flour; if you find it a bit too dry, you can add a bit of water (no more than a teaspoon at a time) until you get the right consistency.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.
Step 5: Day 2: Rolling Out the Pastry
Ultimately, it's best if both the pastry and the filling are cold when working with it, so just use a bit of each at a time while keeping the rest in the refrigerator.
First, cut the pastry dough into four or six pieces so you can work with one piece at a time. I started out with four pieces but realized 6 or more would have been a bit more manageable.
Roll the dough into a long sausage then flatten it with your hand so that it's a bit easier to roll out.
Roll out the dough into a thin sheet with a rolling pin, no more than 1/8" thick. My dough rolled out to about 5" x 12" overall.
Make sure you're keeping the surface lightly floured so that your dough doesn't stick. I checked mine after each roll and moved the pastry around throughout the rolling just to make sure. This will make it easier to handle in the next step.
Step 6: Filling Time!
Once you have a nice section of dough prepared, put a line of filling on the dough about 1 1/2" from the bottom edge. NOTE: you may need to trim the bottom so you have a fairly straight section to work with. Keep those scraps! Add it to the rest of the dough you have in the refrigerator.
For the filling, I found that using a pastry bag gave me the best results. I transferred the fig filling into a pastry bag, then once I was done using it, I could easily store it in the refrigerator in between uses. If you don't have a pastry bag, don't fret! Just use a spoon and try to get a nice, even log of filling across the dough. It will work just as well.
Roll the pastry dough up from the bottom and over the filling. Roll the log slightly so that the dough overlaps slightly onto the other side. Trim the remaining dough with either a pizza cutter or a knife
Using a sharp knife, cut the log into 3" pieces.
Step 7: Shape and Bake
Roll each 3" piece lightly in your hands to help seal the seams; this may lengthen the pieces a bit which is okay.
Cut the pieces into desired designs:
For the 'X', cut a slit at each end of the log being sure to leave at least 3/4" or so in the middle. Gently separate the sections to form the X.
For the crescent, cut small slits at one side of the section and gently bend the piece into a crescent shape.
Place the cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 - 15 minutes, just until the edges start to look golden.
Step 8: Decorate!
Whisk the pasteurized egg whites in a bowl until frothy.
Add the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth. You can add more powdered sugar, if necessary, to make sure it's not too thin.
Drizzle the glaze over the cookies and decorate with sprinkles or crushed pistachios, or any other topping you'd like.
Allow time to dry, then store in an air-tight container.