Cuccidati: A Sicilian Christmas Cookie Tradition

Cucidati

Cuccidati

Is it Christmas already?  Not yet, but it will be soon!  If you’re like me, it’s never too early to start baking Christmas cookies.  So, if you’re ready to brush up on your baking skills for the upcoming holiday season, then I’m ready to share with you one of Sicily’s oldest cookie recipes.

It’s called cuccidati.  It’s a very fun holiday cookie to make and they are divine.  The decadent soft pillow-like dough is stuffed with a sweet nutty fig filling that contains hints of citrus and honey.  They are one of my most favorite holiday cookies and perhaps they are yours, too.

This cookie, like many foods in Italy, is also known by many other names. Some people refer to it as turtigliuna, and others call it buccellati.  No matter what you to call it, the lure of this treat is the delicious sticky fig-flavored center.  The history of this cookie is quite interesting as well.  We learned, on our Tavola Tours adventure to Sicily this September, that many foods in Sicily, especially on the Palermo side of the island, have Arabic influences.  Figs and dates were all introduced to the island hundreds of years ago.  And, luckily for us, figs found their way into this Sicilian cookie recipe that has become a Christmas cookie tradition for many families. But there is no need to wait for Christmas or a trip to Sicily.  With this recipe, you can create your very own delicious cuccidati at any time of the year and still enjoy a little Christmas cheer.

How to Make Homemade Cuccidati?

Ingredients: Yields about 48 cookies

Dough

  • 4 1/2 cups flour (plus 1/4 cup, if needed)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 ¼ cup of butter
  • 2/3 cups of sugar
  • ¾ tsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp orange zest (freshly grated)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of cold water or milk
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly with a little water for egg wash (optional)

Filling

  • 3 cups of dried figs (chopped, soaked in hot water 10 minutes to soften)
  • 3 cups of raisins or dates (seedless)
  • ½ cup of fig jam
  • 3 cups of toasted nuts (such as almonds & walnuts)
  • ¾ cup of your favorite honey
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp of orange juice
  • 3 tbsp of Marsala (optional)
  • 4 tbsp of orange zest (freshly grated)

Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Multi-colored sprinkles or nonpareil balls for decorations

Procedure:

Dough

  • Blend the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are combined.
  • Then add the butter and pulse the mixture.
  • Gradually pour the milk or water into the batter and mix until it reaches a doughy consistency. Add up to ¼ cup of additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if your dough is too sticky.
  • Remove your dough from the food processor and place it on a lightly floured countertop or board.
  • Knead the dough, for about 10 minutes, until it becomes smooth in texture. Divide into four equal pieces, wrap and place in the refrigerator for two hours or overnight.

Filling

  • Drain the figs. Reserve some the juice to moisten mixture if not using Marsala.
  • Add the main ingredients (fig, nuts, and raisins) into the food processor. Pulse it until they’re finely chopped.
  • Now add the rest of the ingredients. Blend until the mixture is properly combined.
cucudati fig mixture

cuccidati fig mixture

Note: The addition of alcohol is optional. If using it you can always add more or less to suit your own taste. Just remember to mix the alcohol into the fig mixture thoroughly, taste for flavor and then add more accordingly mixing well after each addition.

  • 4. Once done, place the sticky fig filling into a bowl.
  • 5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge.

Tip: Make the filling a day before the actual baking. Not only does it save your prep time, but it allows the ingredients to set properly and the flavors to develop.

Forming the Cuccidati

Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Set it aside for 10 minutes at room temperature.  This will make it easier for you to roll it out.  However, you will definitely need to work with this dough while it still has a chill to it, or else it will become too soft and the rolling and forming of the cuccidati will be difficult.

  • When ready to make divide the dough into four pieces.
  • Roll out a nice rectangular forum keeping the dough about 1/4 inch thick.
Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the cuccidati dough.

  • Now, wet your hands a little and roll out a  long log of the fig filling as long as your sheet of dough and about 1/2 inch thick.  Then place it in the middle of your rolled out dough.
Fold the dough over the filling. Dampen the opposite end with a little water or eggwash.

Fold the dough over the filling.  Dampen the opposite end with a little water or egg wash.

  • Take the dough end nearest to you and fold it over the filling to nicely cover it. Then press it lightly into the dough sheet on the other side to wrap the filling into the dough.
  • Repeat the steps for the rest of the batch.

Tip:  You can use a little water or egg wash to help the dough stick together as you close the filling.

  • Carefully with both hands roll the dough log back and forth to close the seam and create a uniform log that is equal thickness from end to end.
  • Assemble the logs in a baking tray, seam side down.
  • Then cover it up with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for an hour or overnight.

Baking the Fig Cookies

  • Preheat oven to 400° F.
  • Line your cookie trays with parchment paper.
  • Take out your dough logs from the fridge.
  • Use a serrated knife cut one and a half inch slices to create the cuccidati cookie shapes
  • Start placing on the cookie tray keeping the seam side down.
  • The cuccidati will not spread as they cook so it’s ok to place them somewhat close together on the baking tray.

Tip: Before cutting the logs make sure the seam is still securely closed. If not, pinch it closed with your fingers, roll the log on your work surface again, and set it back in the refrigerator for 10 more minutes before proceeding.

  • Now, pop the tray in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or till the dough begins to turn golden-brown.
  • Let them cool once they’ve been baked.
  • Then start slicing them into your desired size pieces.  This will be the size of your cuccidati that you will glaze.

Glaze

  • Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl.
  • Add the milk and lemon juice into the bowl and mix until smooth.
  • Spoon over or brush on cookies once cooled.  I try not to cover too much of that gorgeous sweet fig center when glazing the tops of the cookie.
  • Immediately add the sprinkles or nonpareil balls, if desired.

Presto!  Your delectable batch of cuccidati are ready to eat. You can serve these scrumptious treats at bridal showers, tea parties or stock it up for family reunions. Or better yet, make this cookie a part of your Christmas holiday cookie tradition.

Your Christmas ccucidati.

Your Christmas cuccidati!