Homemade Cucidati a Sicilian Fig Cookie Tradition

cucidati fig cookies When I think of holiday baking the first cookie that comes to my mind is cucidati, a Sicilian fig cookie filled with a mixture of nuts, dates, figs, raisins, spices and a few different flavorings and all that goodness is wrapped in a tender buttery dough that’s baked, frosted and sprinkled.

In my family this is a cookie that has memories attached to it, just the smells alone evoke fond thoughts of a mother long gone who lovingly made these for her family throughout their childhood for special occasions and holidays.

It’s about wanting to keep up that tradition and then handing it down to generation after generation.

cucidati Italian fig cookies So for that reason when I make them I go big and it’s a family affair. We start early in the morning and it becomes a whole day of baking. I think the most we made in a one day was 600.

Every one brings their own containers to take their cookies home, many will be gifted out to other family members and friends who look forward to our baking lollapalooza.

I like finding different tins to put them in and I always layer the cookies between wax paper.

fig paste

We have it down to a science now and everyone has their own jobs to do that they’re comfortable with, from making the filling, rolling the cookies, watching the oven, frosting them and adding the sprinkles. I always prep the dough the night before so that job is out of the way, I make at least ten batches.

cucidati Italian fig cookies I line my dining room table with sheets of wax paper and by the time we’re finished every inch gets covered and then some!

cucidati Italian fig cookies The one rule we have is that no one takes any home until the frosting has completely hardened, otherwise they’ll just get ruined when you’re packing them up.

cucidati Italian fig cookies

We even made some with white on white for a more classic look, wouldn’t these would look nice set out at an Italian wedding?

cucidati Italian fig cookiescucidati Italian fig cookies The smell of them baking lasted for days in my house!

cucidati Italian fig cookies

Because of the overwhelming requests for this recipe, I’ve posted it below along with all my tips.

Happy Baking! 


The Dough
TIP: (My handed down family recipe used Crisco because that was very common then, but today all I use is butter in the dough and we like it so much better!)
 4 cups all-purpose flour
 2/3 cup sugar
 1 teaspoon baking powder
 1 teaspoon salt
 8 ounces cold unsalted butter or 2 sticks, cut into pieces
 4 large eggs
Put flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; pulse just to mix. Add the butter pieces and pulse. Add eggs and pulse until dough forms a ball on the blade. Remove from processor and knead briefly on a lightly floured work surface until smooth. Shape dough into a log shape and wrap in plastic and put into fridge overnight or use after it chills well.

TIP:(It’s great to work with when it’s chilled, if you leave it on the counter which I’ve done in the past the butter warms up and rolling it is a nightmare of stickiness, so take out one batch at a time. You might have to whack it with the rolling pin to break it down a bit but believe me it works and rolls much better. Making the dough ahead is especially good when making large amounts like I do, plus it will free up your food processor for the filling.
The Filling
 One 12-ounce package dried Calimyrna or Mission figs, snip off the hard end of stem
 ½ cup of dates, remove pits
 1/2 cup un-blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
 1/3 cup apricot preserves or orange marmalade
 ½ cup plump golden raisins
 1/4 cup candied orange peel, diced ( you can find this on line if you can’t find it in the baking isle, or just used grated orange peel and more marmalade, but I love this addition)
 1/3 cup of honey if you want it sweeter
 1/4 cup dark rum or whiskey
 1 teaspoon cinnamon
 TIP: ( My advice is to taste as you go along maybe adding more or less of the ingredients, my favorite is using whisky)
Instructions for filling
Remove stems from figs and cut the figs into medium-size dice. Put figs and remaining filling ingredients into the food processor and pulse with the metal blade until finely chopped; if you want to do this the day before go right ahead, it gives the flavors a chance to meld together.
To assemble the cookies
Cut your log of dough into 12 pieces and try to roll it out into a 3” by 12” rectangle. Then take the fig filling and scoop it out or make a fig log right down the middle onto the rectangle of the dough and roll it up placing it seam side down.
Cut cookies into 1 1/2 inch pieces, you can cut them into a square or on an angle, then place the cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets and bake at 350 for 15 minutes, till bottoms are nicely golden.
The Frosting
One whole bag of confectioners’ sugar mixed with milk to get the right consistency, sort of thick, not watery.
Non-perils for sprinkling

This recipe makes 4-5 dozen.
Make icing but don’t ice them until the cookies are completely cool from the oven,(important!) Spread a little icing onto each cookie, I like to use a pastry brush instead of dipping which gives me more control and it controls some of the sweetness because the filling is sweet also, then sprinkle the nonpareils on the top of the wet frosting but over a bowl otherwise you’ll see them all over your floor.

Pack them into tins only when frosting is completely hardened between wax paper layers, I repeat, let them dry completely!!

These can be made ahead of time to freeze but please do not frost then until you’re ready to serve. I don’t freeze mine I store then in the tins like I said between wax paper and keep the tins in a cool place, like my garage.
Happy Holiday Baking!

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Celebrations, Traditions and Good Eats!

making ravioliRecently I got together with my side of the family to make ravioli for our Annual Ravioli Night with The Cousins dinner. We incorporated this tradition a few years ago when a dear close cousin of mine past away. Her mother, (my aunt) and my mother, were not only sister in laws they were best friends. They would always cook together and be together during the holidays so all of us cousins wanted to do the same thing along with our own families. We use their cherished ravioli recipe that has been handed down to all of us.
making ravioli Making ravioli for a crowd is probably not the smartest thing to do, you really have to be organized. We make and form the actual ravioli on trays which gives them a consistent look, size and seals them perfectly. I do this a couple of weeks ahead of time and then all get put into the freezer. I make all the dough and the fillings the night before we gather together so everything is ready to go, I use my trusty food processor method for the dough which always works perfectly and never fails me.

When morning comes around, all I have to do is take the dough out of the fridge and get to room temperature. Ten batches of dough yields 400 ravioli, I’m going to cut that down a bit for next year, we finally figured out the right amount to make so there will still be enough leftover for everyone to take a container home.

making ravioli We set aside the whole day to make them, only stopping for lunch in between and a few coffee breaks, this year we made 200 meat and 200 cheese.
homemade ravioli Once we get our mojo working properly the ravioli start coming together quickly. We all have our jobs, I usually do the rolling of all the dough with my pasta machine then after they’re formed I’ll get them into the freezer and then when frozen solid I’ll put them into freezer bags.

homemade ravioli I did a blog post a while back on making ravioli for a crowd, here’s the link there’s some good tips on how to get it done efficiently.

cooking ravioliOne thing I didn’t want to do is have pots of water boiling on my stove with 30 people in my house, so the night before the actual party all that messy work is finished.  I also make sure that days before my sauce is all pre-made and ready to go.

I boil each and every one of the ravioli the night before the party and place them single layer on commercial quality full size foil sheet pans that I get from a restaurant supply store, they work great plus it’s a throw away with no clean up!
cooking ravioli After they cool down I cover the pans with heavy duty foil and keep them cold overnight. When it’s party time all I have to do is pop the whole pan in the oven at 350 degrees F. for 15 minutes, they get perfectly warmed and the pans are great for serving but more importantly there’s nothing major for me to do on party day with a house full of people.

aftermath of boiling 300 ravioli No one sees the disaster on my stove from the night before with all the boiling going on, that’s a good thing! Believe it or not it gets all clean and shiny in time for the party!

ravioli partyRavioli Night with The Cousins is now an annual event in my house, we do it a couple of weeks before Christmas and we all look forward to it every year!
homemade ravioli Can you see why I love those big pans? I can get 60 to 70 ravioli single layer on one full sheet pan, they’re great for a big party.

homemade ravioliWe keep our menu simple, it’s basically the same every year, meat and cheese ravioli, a couple of different salads, good bread, my brothers famous sausage and peppers and chicken that he makes on a charcoal grill. There’s plenty of wine and tons of desserts.
meat raviolicheese raviolitoasting with homemade limoncelloAnother tradition that is now added to our annual Ravioli Night with The Cousins is my daughters homemade limoncello, it’s the best and truly one of the highlights of the night, she makes it every year with much love and care and we all look forward to sipping it. We toast to those who aren’t with us any longer and to all our families here and now. The younger cousins kept doing multiple toasts throughout the night, it was so much fun!  That’s my daughter, upper right hand corner picture, bottom center holding a glass. Thanks V!

It may seem like a lot of work to pull this all off but I can honestly say that it’s worth every bit, and besides we’re creating memories and traditions for a lifetime!
Christmas dinner

And last but not least I’ll leave you with a photo of our Christmas dinner as it might be something you would want to create for New Years Eve. Crab stuffed shrimp, I’ve made it before but this time I made a lemon aioli for dipping the shrimp, it added a ton of flavor and was a nice compliment. Corzetti pasta with pesto was on the side along with a salad, but the one thing I’m super excited about more than anything else is that I finally figured out how to make a proper lobster tail and how to get the meat out of the shell in one piece! I watched a You Tube about it and it all came out without a glitch, literally!

So if you’re staying home on New Years Eve and want to make a special elegant meal I would highly recommend this lobster tail and my crab stuffed shrimp along with a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate and bring in 2014!   Salute!


Holiday Baking has Begun!

I don’t consider myself a baker, using exact measurements is a difficult thing for me to do, as regular readers of my blog well know, but there are certain things I must bake every holiday season and one thing is Italian fig cookies or Cucidati, they’re truly a family favorite.
I’ve posted them a few times before but since my blog chronicles my life in food I thought I’d share some recent pic’s of the day we made them. I say “we” because I never make them alone, always with family, we make a day of it, we start early, I usually always make a pot of soup or chili to eat for lunch because we go way beyond lunch time!

I have a big dining room table, I clear everything off and cover it with wax paper, after they cool on racks they get placed there waiting to be frosted.

There were four of us, we ended up making a little over 400, we started at 9:00am and ended at 4pm, not bad! We each took 100 plus for ourselves.
We started off drinking coffee as we worked.
But as the day went on we were sipping this! Have you tried? Dumante, it’s a pistachio liqueur, luxurious, smooth and might I add, it went very well with our cucidati taste testing!
I love it so much I made a zabaione with it a couple of days later, a light boozy custard usually made with marsala wine, but I replaced it with Dumante Verdenoce.
Here’s how you make it in case you happen to pick up a bottle.
1/4 cup of Dumante** 1/4 cup granulated sugar** 1/4 cup heavy cream** 3 egg yolks**
Set up a pan of simmering water** place a heat safe bowl on top of the water filled with all the ingredients** whisk the mixture continuously over simmering water, not boiling.** cook until you get a consistency of a thin pudding with the internal temp of 145 degrees** remove and continue whisking until you reach room temperature** if it’s too thick add cream or water.**
I make the same recipe every year for the fig cookies, it’s so similar to my mother-in laws except butter is replaced for the Crisco that she always used, here’s the link.
We never made them in the form of X’s but rather like above. You can change up the nuts, sometimes I use walnuts instead, and in place of orange peels I find a good orange marmalade to work wonderfully, you could also replace whiskey for the rum. As I mentioned before we never put chocolate in ours but it’s optional.
We always glaze them by using confectioners sugar mixed with water or milk, vanilla, and sometimes a little anise extract. Non- perils for sprinkling.
Happy Holiday Baking!


Tis The Season to Make Ravioli Again

A few days ago my cousin, sister-in-law and I spent the day together making ravioli for an annual party  that we’re having. This is a family recipe that my mother and aunt use to make. I have vivid memories of clean white sheets on dining room tables and beds filled with ravioli when I was young, and although I do things a little bit different then they did, I follow their recipe exactly, which I still have on a very yellowed index card.
They kept it simple, they would always make two kinds, a meat  and a cheese version. The meat ravioli were filled with ground round or sirloin, romano cheese, spinach and a little onion. The cheese version was always made with ricotta cheese, eggs, romano cheese and fresh parsley.
I like to make all my fillings the night before as it takes time to mix everything together, tasting and getting the flavors just right. After the meat cools down I like to pulse it in a food processor so it’s more uniform and not lumpy. I also like to put my fillings into disposable pastry bags, it goes much faster than a spoon when you’re filling the forms.
I know you can use many different flours but Ceresota unbleached flour was always their flour of choice, so that’s what I use!
The morning we were making them I got up early, took my eggs out of the fridge (so they could get to room temperature) set up the pasta machine and everything else we would be using. Before they came I made 10 batches of dough, it’s very important to let the dough rest before you start rolling it.
I make all my dough using my food processor, I could never do the well method, for one thing I don’t have the patience, and I know I would have eggs dripping all down my counters, besides using the food processor is so quick and it always comes out perfect!
Ceresota flour, eggs, a tiny bit of salt, olive oil and a little bit of water creates the perfect dough for me, I didn’t have one problem with it all day!
We were in the zone, drinking coffee, listening to Christmas music, each one of us doing our specific jobs.
Squirting the cheese mixture into the the ravioli forms is super speedy with a pastry bag!
We were cranking them out left and right!
Aren’t they cute?
Because they will be cooked this weekend I froze all of them, which is very easy to do.
I lay them single layer on a baking sheet, stick the whole tray in the freezer, the meat ones take about a half hour to freeze and the cheese about 1 hour.
When frozen I take them off the tray and place them into zip lock freezer bags.
We ended up with 400! It took us only 4 hours, so that’s about 100 an hour, not too bad, although it took me 2 hours to clean my kitchen, flour was everywhere, but it was worth it because there’s nothing like homemade rav’s!
We had to taste test them to make sure everything was just right, so I heated up some marinara and boiled up a few, even in their frozen state they only take about 6 minutes to cook.

Soft pillows of tender eggy dough filled with the flavors of my youth!
Worth all the effort to make!