My father recalls the big family affair in helping my Nonna Nina make cuccidati every Christmas. As a young boy in Corleone, Sicily, he was in charge of running back and forth to the local baker, who let them use their ovens for a nominal fee. My grandmother baked large batches to feed their quartiere, or district, especially those in mourning. But, she wasn’t the only one, as this tradition has long-standing roots among Sicilians everywhere.
My mother, born in a different region of Southern Italy, has finally honed down this recipe after 40 years of trial and error. My grandmother did it all by eye, and of course, so does my mother. When researching recipes online, there are many variations of these cookies, i.e. sweetened with marmalade, adding chopped dates, or no white icing on top. However, the traditional ingredients, such as figs, nuts, and spices, are staples. The recipe is Arab-influenced, dating back to the Moors ruling Sicily during the 9th and 10th centuries.
Today, just like panettone and sfinge, whether store-bought or homemade, the cuccidati still grace Italian tabletops on Christmas Eve. Hopefully, they will grace yours too. Buon Natale from our family to yours!
Nonna Nina’s Sicilian Fig Cookies (translated from Italian)
3 cups of soft wheat flour (farina di grano tenero tipo 0)
2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, melted
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup almonds, chopped
2 one-oz packets of raisins
Orange liqueur (or Grand Marnier)
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
4 lbs whole dried figs, chopped
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup of honey
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2-3 whole cloves (or 1/2 tsp ground)
1 demitasse espresso coffee
1/2 box of powdered sugar
3 tsp lemon extract
Drops of whole milk
For the Dough:
Prepare dough on a hard, clean surface. Mix all of the dry ingredients with citrus zests by hand and form a well. In a separate bowl, using a fork, lightly beat two eggs with vanilla and pour into the well. Add cooled, softened butter into the well. With wet hands, combine all ingredients together and mold into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour.
For the Filling:
Preheat oven at 350°F and lightly toast walnuts and almonds on a baking sheet. In the meantime, in a small bowl, reconstitute raisins by soaking in orange liquor with citrus zests. Remove dry tips of figs and chop each one into quarters. Chop nuts once cooled. Chop chocolate. Mix all ingredients in a food processor and blend to a paste. Taste as you blend to adjust flavors and set aside in large bowl.
Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into 6 pieces. Roll each piece out using a rolling pin. To make a log, form a wide long shape, but you can also make half-moon, wreath, and horseshoe shapes. Spoon one side of dough with fig filling and fold dough over, making sure to pinch shut. Place onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove and cool the logs on a baking rack.
For the Icing:
Combine sugar, lemon extract, and milk. If necessary, add more milk to thicken consistency. Once the logs have cooled, drizzle the icing and top with sprinkles. After the icing thickens and dries, using a serrated knife, cut diagonally into finger-length cookies, exposing the fig. If other shapes are made, do not cut.
Westchester resident Antonella Pomilla runs a popular Instagram called food_getaboutit, based on her love of food, wine, photography, and culture.