The filling shows the Arab influences of Sicily and consists of sweet dried figs, raisins, candied citron, almonds, chopped hazelnuts, fresh lemon and orange zest, and a touch of spice. I’ve seen recipes that include clove and cinnamon. I like to sometimes add a dash of cinnamon. You can decide if you want to add a dash of cloves. The cuccidati take on many different shapes: wreaths and sometimes the “X” form. They are sometimes even shaped as animals. I don’t think I’ll be attempting any time soon the animal shaped version. As in the way the dialects change as you travel from town to town in Sicily, so do these cookies. There are the different dialect names for the cookies, different shapes they can be formed in, and the slight differences in the fillings.
There is the Sicilian background of these cookies and my family and then there is the Calabrian version and my mother-in-law. The other day my husband made a Skype call to his parents. It was almost Christmas Eve and Teresa was busy baking and it was already 10:30 at night. She finally came to the computer to say “ciao” and she had on her cute apron and was carrying a huge basket of “i sammartini”. That’s Calabrese for her biscotti di San Martine, which are almost the same as these cuccidati. They are also made at Christmas time in Calabria as they are in Sicily. Except Teresa doesn’t reserve them just for the holidays. She makes them whenever she visits us and whenever we are there in Italy with her. Any time is a special occasion. Their recipe is almost the same as the Sicilian version. I called her the next day to have her run by the filling for me again. She told me it’s simply figs, raisins, almonds, some Moscato or Vin Santo, a little bit of chocolate chips and a dash of cinnamon. I have seen recipes with dates and honey. Teresa reminded me her recipe is made without dates and no need for any honey. She told me to add orange marmalade since I can’t find orange peels from wonderful oranges like she gets from Calabria.
My mother used to make them every Christmas for us when we were growing up. She came by on Christmas Eve to bake with my kids and my nieces. She gave me a hand with the cuccidati. The kids were awaiting their turn to get baking the sugar cookies. The cookies are not that hard to make. If you can have someone around to give you a hand, it will make the process go a little quicker. While the dough rests in the fridge, you can make the fig filling. Then when the cookies are filled and baked, it’s time to ice them. When you ice them, it’s better to have someone with you to help you with the sprinkles. The kids are always ready to sprinkle!
These cookies may surprise you and be a hit with your kids and trust me, they are a hit when you bring them to a party. I made the mistake of not bringing enough to a Christmas Eve party we went to this year. I brought more American cookies and less of the fig cookies thinking not everyone would like them. Big mistake! I disappointed the host and promised to bring more this week! They are that good! Happy baking!
*Photos, text and recipe updated from 12/27/13
Cuccidati-Sicilian Fig Cookies
- ½ cup butter softened
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup dried and chopped figs stems removed
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
- 2/3 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup chocolate chips add more if you like more chocolate flavor
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup Moscato or Marsala or white wine
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 Tablespoons orange marmalade
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus more if necessary
- rainbow nonpareils
- In a stand mixer, beat butter until smooth (1 minute). Beat in the sugars and soda until combined. Beat in egg and vanilla. Lower speed of mixer and beat in the flour. Divide dough in half in plastic wrap. Chill until firm. While dough chills, prepare the fig filling (see directions below).
- Remove stems from the figs and cut into small pieces. Place the figs and
- the rest of filling ingredients in food processor with the metal blade.
- Pulse until finely chopped. You could use the filling like this or you
- could cook in a medium size skillet for about 5-7 minutes on medium-low heat In a medium saucepan combine filling ingredients. If it doesn't seem moist enough,
- add orange juice a Tablespoon at a time until the mixture soft and
- thick. Adjust the flavor of filling to your liking. If you like more of a spice flavor, add a bit more cinnamon. Add more honey if you'd like sweeter. If you like more chocolate, add some more chips to your liking. Cool to room temperature.
When dough is firm:
- Sprinkle a little flour on the bottom and top of a portion of dough and place it in between two sheets of plastic wrap (or parchment paper). Roll into a 10x8 inch rectangle. Cut each rectangle lengthwise in half.
- Spread fig filling lengthwise down the middle of each strip.
- Gently lift up one long side of dough and fold it over the filling.
- Lift the other side over the filling. Pinch together the seam.
- Flip over the log seam side down.
- Carefully slice into the pieces.
- Place them seam side down on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Finish filling and slicing the rest of the dough.
- Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer pieces to a wire rack to cool. Drizzle with lemon glaze (see directions below) and sprinkles.
Lemon Glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until it forms a thick but pourable glaze (add more lemon juice if necessary). If it gets too thin, add a little more confectioners' sugar.
- Drizzle on each cookie, add the sprinkles and let set, about 15 minutes.
- To Store: Place in layers separated by wax paper in an airtight container. They are perfect to give as a gift.