Recipe: Cucidati (Sicilian Fig-Filled Cookies)
Makes 60 cookies
Make ahead: The dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. The filling can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. The cookies can be stored between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container for up to 10 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
For the dough
4 cups flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level it off), plus more for the work surface
2 / 3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
4 large eggs
For the filling
12 ounces dried Calimyrna figs, stemmed and diced
¼ cup dark or golden raisins
¼ cup candied orange peel, coarsely chopped
¼ cup blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
¼ cup apricot preserves
¼ cup dark rum
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 large egg, well beaten
Pinch kosher salt
Multicolored nonpareils, for decorating
1. For the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse three or four times to mix. Add the butter and process for 10 to 15 seconds or until it is finely mixed into the dry ingredients. Add the eggs. Pulse a few times until a ball of dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Form the dough into a fat cylinder and use immediately, or seal in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Meanwhile, make the filling: Combine the figs, raisins, candied orange peel, almonds, pine nuts, chocolate, apricot preserves, rum, instant espresso powder, cinnamon and cloves in a mixing bowl, stirring to blend well. Transfer to a food processor; pulse until finely chopped but not ground or puréed. Return to the bowl; if not using right away, cover and refrigerate.
3. For assembly: Lightly flour a work surface. Unwrap the dough and place it on the surface, kneading slightly until malleable. Whisk together the egg and salt to form an egg wash.
4. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with silicone liners or parchment paper.
5. Roll the dough into an even cylinder that’s 15 inches long, then cut it into 1-inch rounds.
6. Re-flour the work surface. Repeat with the filling, creating 15 rounds that are 1 inch thick.
7. Clean the work surface and flour it lightly. Roll one of the pieces of dough under the palms of your hands to a length of about 8 inches. Make sure there’s flour under the dough. Use the palm of your hand to flatten the dough to a width of 3 inches. if you use a rolling pin for this, flour the top of the dough; roll up to, but not over, the long edges (to keep from making them too thin and to help maintain the rectangular shape). Slide a thin metal spatula under the strip of dough to make sure it isn’t stuck.
8. Flour another part of the work surface and roll one of the pieces of filling under the palms of your hands to a length of 8 inches (non-tapered). Center the narrow log of filling on the dough and use the egg wash to lightly brush the exposed edges of dough. Draw the dough around the filling to enclose it, making a long cylinder. Roll the cylinder under the palms of your hands to lengthen it to 12 inches, being careful to keep it an even thickness all the way to the ends as you work.
9. Use a paring knife to cut the cylinder into four 3-inch lengths.
10. Place each short log seam side down and flatten it slightly. Make 4 diagonal, evenly spaced slashes across the top of the log, then bend the cookie into an arc. The slashes will open wider so the cookie has the shape of a small pastry bear claw. Lightly brush the tops with the egg wash, then lightly sprinkle the nonpareils on each cookie.
11. Arrange the four cookies on one of the baking sheets, spaced at least ¾ inch apart. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling to fill the three baking sheets. Stack one of the filled baking sheets on a fourth baking sheet (to form a double layer).
12. Bake one single sheet on the upper rack and the double-layer sheet on the lower rack for eight to 10 minutes. Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back; bake for seven to 10 minutes, until golden and firm.
13. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool the cookies completely. Reposition an oven rack in the middle of the oven; bake the remaining sheet of cookies on that rack. Cool on the sheet before serving or storing.
Nutritional information per cookie: 103 calories, 2 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 63 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar
Adapted by The Washington Post from New York pastry chef and cookbook author Nick Malgieri.