I love Italian cookies. My grandmother’s neighborhood in East Cambridge, Massachusetts had a fantastic Italian bakery, Royal Pastry Shop. Whenever we went to Grandma’s house, she would send out my Grandpa to get donuts, Italian cookies or Portuguese sweet bread. But the Italian cookies were always my favorite.
Even today, Italian cookies from Royal are bound to show up at a family event. My cousin even had them at her rehearsal dinner on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I’m hoping someone brings them to Christmas this year. But just in case, maybe I’ll make some of my own, starting with these fig cookies.
Every few years, I bake a lot of Christmas cookies. Last year was one of those years. I made these delicious Italian fig cookies along with several others. They take some time since you have to make candied orange peel – unless you’re lucky enough to find high-quality peel in a store. Plus, there’s the rolling and cutting. But, by gosh, they’re worth it. I made five different cookies last Christmas, and these were our favorites.
Italian Fig Cookies – Cucidati
Makes about 5 dozen cookies
You’ll need a vegetable peeler, small saucepan, tongs, food processor, plastic wrap, two baking sheets, parchment paper or Silpat, rolling pin, pastry brush,
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces cold unsalted butter or 1/2 pound cold lard, cut into pieces
- 4 large eggs
- One 12-ounce package dried Calimyrna or Mission figs
- 1/2 cup unblanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1/3 cup apricot preserves
- 1/4 cup plump golden raisins (rehydrate in hot water if necessary)
- 1/4 cup candied orange peel, diced (see recipe below)
- 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/4 cup dark rum
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt, for egg wash
- Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
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 20 times. 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 and wrap in plastic.
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. Scrape filling onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead to blend it, and shape it into a rough log. Cut the log into 12 even pieces.
Position racks to divide oven into thirds and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Divide the dough into 12 even pieces.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, on a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough under your hands to form a 12-inch rope. Use a rolling pin to roll the rope into a 3- by 12-inch rectangle. Run a blunt knife under the dough to make certain it hasn’t stuck to the work surface and brush the top of the dough with egg wash.
Roll a piece of filling into a 12-inch rope and center it on the rolled-out dough. Pull the dough up around the filling, making a seam, and roll it into a cylinder, about 15 inches long. Cut them as long as you want.
Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet. Bake cookies for 15 minutes, or until a light golden color. Transfer to racks to cool.
- 1-3/4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Multicolored nonpareils
Sift sugar then add milk slowly to form a soft, smooth icing. If icing gets too thick, microwave it for 10 seconds to thin it enough for dipping. Hold cookie in your hand and turn upside down so you can dip the top half in the glaze; turn over and place on pan. Do about six quickly then immediately top with sprinkles (nonpareils) so they will stick. Allow icing to harden overnight; then store in air-tight containers or freeze.
Candied Orange Peel
- 1 large navel orange
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
Using a vegetable peeler, cut the orange part of the peel from the stem end of the orange down to the navel end, forming long 3/4 to 1-inch-wide strips.
Bring a heavy small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the peels and cook for 1 minute. Drain and then rinse the peels under cold water. Repeat cooking the peels in the saucepan with fresh boiling water and rinsing under cold water.
Stir the sugar and 1/2 cup of fresh water in a heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Add the orange peels and simmer over medium-low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the peels to a sheet of parchment paper to dry slightly, about 1 hour.
Original recipe: Candied Orange Peel, Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network