During the winter, right around Christmas, it’s a tradition amongst many Sicilian families to get together and make certain types of cookies. Perhaps my favorite of the cookies are the cucidati. These tiny cookies, jammed packed with flavor, always remind me of Christmastime. However, for such a small cookie the amount of effort involved in constructing them is very high. The prep process for these little guys is not something you can do casually in an hour or so for a late-night snack. It makes for a great afternoon activity and the more people you have, the more fun it can be- it’s the one time our idiom “too many cooks in the kitchen” seems to be untrue on a very literal level!
Cucidati are crescent-shaped cookies made with a light, white dough and filled with a spiced, fig-nut filling. In our family, we love to use the flavors of clove and allspice with a hint of orange extract. We also use pecans to add the nuttiness. Many families use walnuts, but I’m convinced that the south rubbed off on us and we switched to the less bitter, and less expensive pecan in many dishes! Some people also use dates in the mixture- I prefer 100% mission figs for the filling.
Every family has their own recipe for cucidati. In my family there are two different methods for making these delicious cookies. I decided to blend the two and create my own recipe. This is partially due to necessity, most family recipes for cucidati make 100-200 cookies… which I do not need in my two-person household. This recipe makes about 50 cookies, with some extra dough to play around with. First-time cucidati makers will hopefully find this recipe useful because of the extra dough, it can be difficult to get the cookies looking pretty the first few times around. With this recipe though- you should be sure to be a little stingy with the filling. If you’re not prepared to be careful about doling out the filling- make double the filling recipe.
A few additional notes: you’ll want a very large work space for these cookies, especially when constructing them. You’ll need a rolling pin as well as a sharp knife for cutting the characteristic slits in the top of the cookie. When I get together with my aunt, grandmother, great-aunt, cousins, and mother, we use a pack of razor blades. However, this most recent time making them I just used my pocket knife and it worked out fine! You will also need a food processor to make the filling.
As with many Sicilian family recipes, it is assumed that you’ve had someone teach you how to make it so you know how the dish should progress in its look and feel. With the filling here, that’s a big part of it. I give a recipe for simple syrup to help break down and sweeten the figs- do not use all of the simple syrup, you will NOT need all of it. I will repeat this throughout the recipe, as a reminder.
Enjoy the cookies- and the experience of making them! 🙂
Cucidati- Sicilian Fig Cookies
makes 50-60 cookies with extra dough
for the dough
4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup crisco
1/2 cup milk
3/4 tsp vanilla
for the filling
simple syrup (made with 3/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water) You will not use all of this syrup!
6oz dried mission figs
3/4 cup pecans
3/4 tsp each cloves and allspice
3 tsp orange extract
for the icing (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
~2 tablespoons milk
First, make your dough. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt).
Cube the crisco and mix it into the dry ingredients by hand until combined. The mixture will be crumbly.
Add in the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, and vanilla). Fold until it comes together in a ball. Let it rest in a cool place for half an hour.
During these 30 minutes, you can make the filling! First, you will want to make a simple syrup. I use a recipe for a large amount of simple syrup, just in case. Plus, it’s useful for all sorts of other things like jams and fancy cocktails! Stir the sugar with a cup of water in a pot over medium-high heat. Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved (almost or just to boiling/simmering usually). Let this cool down. You can store it in the fridge in an airtight container. Remember, you will not be using all of this simple syrup for the cucidati recipe.
De-stem and quarter the dried figs.
Chop the pecans in half.
Combine the two in a food processor until it forms a very loose paste or crumble. You might need to stir it a bit in between pulses to jostle the figs around, they are very sticky.
In a bowl, combine the fig-pecan mixture with the spices and orange extract. Mix together.
Next, add to your filling the simple syrup. You will probably be adding only around ¼ cup, but it takes a little bit of practice to get the consistency right. Add the simple syrup a tablespoon or two at a time until you’ve got a fairly sticky paste that keeps together and could be spread. You do not want to add too much, otherwise it will leak out of the cookies. It should be about the consistency of a cheese spread (or a little thicker).
Now comes the construction. First, create your workspace. Lay down a large sheet of parchment paper and set up a small bowl of water, a pizza cutter, and your pocket knife/sharpest, smallest knife. Flour the surface of the parchment paper. Roll out half of the dough and trim the edges to form a large square.
Cut the square into 2″ strips using the pizza cutter.
Taking one strip at a time, flatten it out and shape a thin line of filling down the center.
Fold one side of the dough over the filling. Lightly wet it with water. Fold the other side on top and press down to create a seal.
Flip the roll “seal-side down” onto your floured surface. Using your kitchen knife, cut the log into 2-3″ pieces.
Finally, take your sharpest, smallest knife and cut 3 small slits in the top of the dough. You want to slice through the top layer of dough only.
Shape the cookie into a crescent and place it on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes on the bottom rack and 5-7 minutes on the top rack. When each batch is finished, take them out and allow them to cool completely. The filling will be very hot.
If you like, you can then create a light glaze by mixing 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar with about 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush the glaze over the cooled cookies. It hardens very quickly, so that you can enjoy your fig treats soon!