Cucidati: The Sicilian Fig Newton

December 21st, 2013 § 1 comment

I have a particular affinity for figs. Both my grandpa and uncle kept fig trees in their back yard, a throwback to their Italian and Portuguese heritage.

Many a summer day was spent meandering in my Uncle John’s yard sneaking gooseberries for that familiar sweet pop and hoping that a musky honeyed fig would be ready to pick off of his tree. In the summer, the trees flourished and brought such joy to the family and in the winter they were buried to withstand the biting cold so they could flower again in the spring.

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There may not be fresh figs in Pennsylvania in the dead of winter but there are, however, dried. Oh, and little juicy crimson berries. Most aren’t edible, unfortunately.

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The Italians have a particular way of celebrating the dried fig in the winter. He is different, yes, a concentrated pruney delight that is very different than his summer self…but no worse off. Figs have always graced our Christmas table in some way and the cucidati has been a favorite of mine.

Though a Northern Italian by birth, my Nona like so many others, loved this Sicilian treat and made it most every Christmas. Her recipe makes others pale in comparison. It is the perfect dough: eggy, slightly sweet but light enough to complement its dark and stormy center.

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Her icing was vanilla but I have come to adore Meyer lemon icing. This year I was blessed to have my first lemon from my tree come to fruit. This is the perfect entrance for the winter lemon.

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I sincerely hope you adore this old recipe as much as I have over the years. The cookie itself reminds of a tender sugar cookie and the filling is spiced yet vaguely reminiscent of the summer. This is a worthwhile addition to your holiday repertoire. Peace and love in your holiday season.

Nona’s Cucidati

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped and pitted dried dates
  • 1 1/2 cups dried figs, Black Mission if possible
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup water
  • juice of one satsuma or mandarin (my addition, optional but brings a nice citrus undertone)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 oz unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4-5 cups unbleached white flour
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions:

In a small saucepan you will be making the filling. Place in saucepan the dates, figs, walnuts, water and juice. Stir over medium heat until the mixture is softened. Using a potato masher, mash up mixture until it is well combined. You want a paste keeping it together but nut chunks throughout. Let cool. The mixture may be used after it has cooled or wrapped in a ball in plastic wrap and kept it in the fridge overnight. I find it easier to work with when well chilled the next day.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat eggs. Add sugar and cream. Beat in butter then vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Slowly fold in flour using your hands. The less you work the batter the better. Use as much flour as needed to have a slightly wet dough that holds together. The less flour the better. When the four (or 5) cups of flour are incorporated, place in plastic wrap in a large ball and chill for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. On a well floured countertop or cutting board, roll out a third of the dough. In rows, spread out fig filling in long logs. Cut dough about 1 inch out and roll it over the filling tucking and rolling until it meets the other side. Take these long logs and cut each piece on the bias about 1 1/2 inches long. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet leaving about a 1/3 inch space between each cookie. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Let cucidati cool on a rack while the next batch is being baked.

Meyer Lemon Icing

Ingredients:

Juice lemons into powdered sugar. Whisk with a fork until there are no lumps. If lemons are not juicy enough, milk may be added to icing to thin. When cucidati are cool, drop little a little spoonful of icing onto each cookie letting it drip down the sides. Let harden. Eat the cucidati. Store cookies for a few weeks in a tin or in the freezer for longer.

Love,

S

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