Friday, December 16, 2011

Italian Fig Cookies (Cucidati)

I finally got around to starting my annual Christmas cookie baking last Sunday. There are many years when it is likely that it would never happen at all if it weren't for the fact that I teach a class that features eight of my favorite Christmas cookies. (This is one of those years...) I have already posted two of the cookies that I teach in my class—Scottish Shortbread and Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti. Today I thought I would share the recipe for Italian Fig Cookies (Cucidati).

I found this recipe in Gourmet magazine almost ten years ago. For several years running (2000 through 2006) Gourmet Magazine's December issue was filled with recipe after recipe of amazing Christmas cookies. I looked forward to that issue's arrival every year—many of my favorite Christmas cookies come from those issues. (I am still so sad that Gourmet is no more.)

Cucidati are the original Fig Newton—only they are so much better. Besides figs, cucidati typically include other dried fruits like raisins (dark or light), currants and/or dates. In addition to the dried fruit, most recipes also call for finely chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans...). The finished filling is fragrant with orange—fresh zest, juice and/or candied peel—spices and spirits (brandy, rum, whiskey...). To my mind, a Fig Newton is a kid's cookie...Cucidati are for grownups.

The fig filling is encased in a soft, tender cookie crust. To make the cookies, the dough is rolled out and cut into strips that are 1/8-inch thick and 3 1/4-inch wide.

The filling is arranged in a narrow mound down the center of each strip and the dough on either side of the filling is lifted up and over and then sealed so that the filling is wrapped in a thin tube of dough. These "logs" are then cut into short lengths to form the individual cookies.

The description of how to roll out the dough in the recipe may seem a bit convoluted, but the details of rolling to a specific size, then trimming and then cutting are to help you create strips that are exactly 3 1/4-inch wide and 10 inches long. This size strip will hold exactly 1/3 cup of the filling. But once you have made these cookies a few times, you will have a feel for how much filling to use and you can then roll the strips (of any length) in the way that works best for you (so long as it doesn't create too many scraps—the scraps can be re-rolled once, but more than that and they will be tough).

The recipe tells you to chill the dough until it is firm, but even when well-chilled it will still be soft and a bit sticky. When rolling it out, make sure your work surface and your rolling pin are well floured. (You can always brush away the excess flour with a dry pastry brush.) Because the dough is so soft, it is easiest to lift it up and over the filling if you have a long, narrow spatula. Slide the spatula under the edge of the dough and use it to lay the entire edge over the strip of filling in one motion. At that point the other side (which will have been moistened to help it adhere) can be lifted in the same manner. Roll the log over and rock it gently against your work surface so that the dough is well-sealed.

The logs can be cut immediately, but because the dough is so soft, a quick chill of 15 minutes or so in the freezer will make it so that they are much easier to cut cleanly and neatly. I have never done it, but I imagine that the uncut logs could be frozen (just like a traditional "slice and bake" cookie). You would then be in a position to have a few warm Cucidati any time the mood strikes....

Italian Fig Cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 t. Salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 large eggs
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Place flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and process to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Turn butter and flour mixture into a large bowl. Whisk together the eggs, vanilla and milk. Drizzle over the flour mixture and stir with a fork to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times. Flatten the dough into a rectangle between sheets of plastic. Chill until firm—at least 8 hours.

9 oz. (1 heaping cup, packed) dried figs (preferably White Turkish), stems discarded
3 3/4 oz. (3/4 cup) golden raisins
zest and juice of one orange
4 oz. (3/4 cup) whole almonds, toasted and finely chopped
3 oz. (3/4 cup) walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves
3/4 c. honey
1/4 c. brandy, dark rum or marsala

Place the figs, raisins and orange juice in the food processor and process until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours.

To form the cookies, divide the rectangle of dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator while you work with the first half. Roll the rectangle of dough out on a well-floured surface into a 12- by 15-inch rectangle that is about 1/8-inch thick. Trim to a 10- by 13-inch rectangle (chill the trimmings). Cut this rectangle into 4 10- by 3¼-inch strips. Arrange 1/3 cup filling in a 1-inch wide log down the length of each strip. Working with one strip at a time, lightly moisten the one of the long edges of the dough with water. Fold the opposite edge up and over the filling and then fold the moistened edge up so that the filling is enclosed in the dough. Roll the cookie logs over so the seam is down and press lightly to make sure the seam is well sealed. Repeat with the remaining 3 strips of dough and filling. Cut the logs crosswise with a sharp floured knife into 1-inch lengths. Arrange the cookies ½-inch apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Roll out the remaining dough with the trimmings in the same manner to make more cookies.

Bake the cookies in a 350° oven until set and golden—about 16 to 20 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 80 1-inch cookies. If you prefer a larger cookie, cut the logs into 1½-inch lengths to get 4 to 5 dozen cookies.

The cookies may be decorated in a number of ways:
• Dredge the cooled cookies with powdered sugar.
• Just before baking, brush each cookie lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar, turbinado sugar or colored decorative sugar.
• When the cookies are cool, drizzle with a glaze made of 1 c. powdered sugar, 1/2 t. vanilla and 1 1/2 to 2 T. orange juice.

(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, December 2002)


Anonymous said...

Gourmet still publishes a holiday issue every year :)

terriskitchenuk said...

Oh these look wonderful. I will definitely have to come back to this for next Christmas!