Buccellati (Sicilian Christmas Fig Cookies)

By • November 25, 2014 19 Comments

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Author Notes: Known as cucciddati or cucidati in dialect, buccellati are Sicily's best known Christmas cookie. A thin pastry wrapped around a filling of dried figs and nuts, they are reminiscent of fig cookies—but better. Glazed and decorated with colored sprinkles or simply dusted with confectioner's sugar, these festive treats aren't around for long, so make the most of them by baking a big batch and sharing the love with family and friends.

The variations are as many as there are households in Sicily. You can find these cookies in the form of one large buccellato ring, its pastry heavily decorated with crimping, as well as individual buccellati cookies in a variety of shapes and forms. The "X" and "arch" shapes are common, but you can also find them made like half-moon ravioli or, even simpler, in little logs like cannoli, as well as in shorter, flatter versions. It's common to cut slashes or patterns into the pastry with a razor blade or very sharp knife to expose the contrasting filling for decoration.

Once you've decided on the form you want (or why not experiment? Each cookie could be a different shape or pattern.), consider some of these variations in the filling. Instead of orange marmalade, try apricot or peach jam —or cut out a step by using fig jam instead of the dried, soaked, and chopped figs. Substitute the pistachios or pine nuts for almonds or hazelnuts. Change up the orange zest with other citrus—mandarin orange or lemon, for example. Add 100 grams of dark chocolate chips, candied citrus, or dates. Use a splash of marsala or rum, or add some of your favorite Christmas spices (ground cloves or nutmeg are commonly added).
Emiko

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Makes 40 to 50 cookies

For the filling:

  • 1 pound (17 ounces or 500 grams) dried figs
  • 1 cup (5 ounces or 150 grams) raisins
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces or 60 grams) unsalted pistachios, shelled
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce or 35 grams) pine nuts
  • 1 cup (4 ounces or 120 grams) walnut kernels
  • 1/3 cup (4 ounces or 125 grams) honey
  • 2/3 cup (200 grams) orange marmalade or apricot jam
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  1. Place the figs in a bowl and pour boiling water over them; let them sit for at least 15 minutes to soften. Drain figs and remove the stems with a sharp knife before chopping roughly. Place in a food processor and blitz until you have a paste, then transfer to a bowl.
  2. Place the walnuts and pistachios in the food processor and chop finely—but leave them a little rough; don't go so far as to turn this into a paste too. Add to the figs, along with the rest of the filling ingredients. Combine well and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours at least, but it's better to leave it overnight to let the flavors develop.

For the pastry and decorating:

  • 5 cups (600 grams) flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) confectioner's sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) chilled butter or lard, diced
  • 3 eggs plus 1 yolk, beaten
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 1/2 cups (310 grams) confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped unsalted pistachios (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons colored sprinkles (optional)
  • Confectioner's sugar for dusting (optional)
  1. For the pastry: Place first four ingredients in a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour mixture (or pulse in a food processor) until it resembles bread crumbs. Add the eggs and yolk and combine until you have a smooth dough. If it is a little too sticky, add a small amount of flour until it no longer sticks to your hands. If it's dry or crumbly, add some cold water, a little at a time, until it comes together. Wrap firmly in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest and chill, at least 1 hour but better overnight.
  2. To assemble: Cut the chilled dough into 4 to 6 smaller portions and work one portion at a time (keeping the others wrapped in plastic and chilled). Roll first into a sausage shape, then flatten and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a long rectangle, no more than an 1/8-inch thick. Place filling along the middle of the rectangle lengthways in a long, thin log shape, no more than an inch wide. Roll the pastry around it to enclose completely, overlapping the dough just a little bit. Trim off the extra pastry. Roll the log gently with the palms of your hands to seal the edges and tighten and lengthen the log ever so slightly. Cut 3-inch pieces of the log with diagonal cuts. (It helps if both the pastry and the filling are chilled, so if possible, work a bit at a time and keep chilled anything that you are not using).
  3. Prepare a baking sheet lined with baking paper. To make an "X" shape, use a very sharp knife to cut about 1 1/4-inch incision from top and bottom of the logs (leaving about 3/4 inch uncut in the middle) and separate gently to form an "X." To make an arch, make 1/2-inch incisions along the side of the log, then gently bend to form into an arch. Place cookies on baking sheet and bake at 350º F (180º C) for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pastry is just beginning to turn golden. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the glaze (if using). With a fork, beat the whites until they become frothy. Add the 2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar until you have a smooth paste the consistency of honey. Add more sugar if not thick enough and, if necessary, you can strain the mixture through a sieve again to make it perfectly smooth. Spoon or brush the glaze over the tops of the cookies and either leave as they are or top with a pinch of chopped pistachios or colored sprinkles. You could also simply dust with confectioner's sugar.
  5. Place the glazed cookies back on the baking tray and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes or until the glaze feels dry and set. Let cool completely before serving. Keep in an airtight container.

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Topics: Cookies!, Holiday Entertaining, Christmas, Italian Cooking, Holidays