Ask The Chef-Holiday Food Gifts-Italian Fig Cookies
Dear Chef Coco,
Can you share a good idea for a special food gift? I am Italian and I want to make something special this year for my holiday party sweet tray and make enough to give as hostess gifts during the holidays.
Dear John H,
Holiday Food Gifts are a great way to celebrate the past culinary treasures of one's family. Folks look forward to the season and a chance to reminise about childhood favorite foods.
My mama was a great baker and all around fabulous Cajun cook. She was frugal when she needed to be and never showed up empty handed when it came to food gifts. Every year she would get together with her friends and neighbors and make fig bars. We had fig trees in the back yard which were bountiful every year so she would can fig preserves. She was famous for these because they were the filling for her famous fig bars. In Italy these bars are known as Cuccidati and they originally came from Sicily. particularly in the Palermo region which has an Arab influence. The recipe is a process for sure as the filling is a few steps but most can be done ahead of time. It's wrapped in a sweet cookie dough and baked. They freeze beautifully and make great food gifts for shipping because they hold well in a tin.
I use Emeril's recipe since I know he knows what this cookie means to Cajuns and Italians.
These Italian cookies, also known as cuccidati, are made by many New Orleanians of Sicilian descent for St. Joseph's Day altars all around the city. Make a batch of your own and see why they're so beloved. The recipe makes quite a few cookies, which makes it great for gifting around the holidays!
Total Time: 2 1/2 hours plus time for dough and filling to rest for the filling:
7 ounces diced dried figs, hard stems trimmed, about 1 cup
3/4 cup packed diced dried pitted dates (6 ounces)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons brandy
zest of 1 orange, plus 3 tablespoons orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves for the dough:
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, cubed 1 large egg
6 to 8 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
for decorating cookies: 2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 to 5 tablespoons milk, or as needed food coloring, to tint the icing (optional)
nonpareil sprinkles, for decorating (optional)
Make the filling: In a food processor, combine the figs, dates, and raisins and process to finely chop. Place the mixture in a medium bowl, add the remaining filling ingredients and stir to blend thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours. While the filling is in the fridge, make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Add the cubed butter and using your hands or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, 6 tablespoons of the milk, vanilla and almond extracts together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture starts to come together into a cohesive mass. If the dough seems too dry, add up to 2 tablespoons more milk, as needed. Turn the crumbly mass out onto a work surface and knead a few times, just until the dough comes together. Do not overwork. Divide the dough into three equal portions and form each portion into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to make the cookies, up to 1 day in advance. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line two or three large baking sheets with parchment. Working with one portion of the dough at a time, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to warm up slightly. Place the dough on a floured work surface and dust the dough with flour. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/8-inch. Using a knife or a rolling pizza cutter, trim the uneven edges from one side of the dough, and then cut the dough into long strips 2 1/2-inches wide. Using a small spoon and your fingers, shape a long rope of the filling down the center of each strip of dough. The filling should be about 1/2 inch wide. Working with one strip of dough at a time, bring both of the long edges up and over the filling to meet in the center, and press the edges together to close. Turn the filled ropes over so that the seam is now on the bottom, and press gently to compact the rope into a long thin cylinder. Cut the ropes into lengths about 1 1/2 inches long, and place onto the parchment lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2-inch between cookies. Repeat until you have used all of the dough and all of the filling. Bake the cookies until light golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.
The recipe is long, but the results are worth it. They hold great and taste like home.