Task: Make something that is considered party food where you are from, and post a picture of it on booklikes.
A few years ago, my dad was reminiscing about a holiday cookie that his 1st generation Sicilian immigrant mother used to make every year in a massive baking frenzy with “the aunts”. Aspiring cookie-stealers had to run the gauntlet through this formidable group of women, but the reward was worth the risk.
I was able to get the family recipe from a distant cousin so I could make the cookies for him, and this has now become my own annual holiday tradition of massive baking frenzy with one of my best (and very talented) friends. We make them just before Thanksgiving, so I can bring them to my dad when I travel down for the holiday, and he can enjoy them all the way up to Christmas, just as he did when he was a boy.
Cuccidati are Sicilian fig cookies, traditionally made for the Christmas season, and the half-day spent together with your fellow baker(s) brings even more joy than enjoying their deliciousness. There are endless variations on the recipe, because it’s a versatile cookie that lends itself well to experimentation, and I imagine that our family recipe has evolved over time and place. For example, I’m guessing that the pecans are a regional variation that was incorporated after the family settled in Texas. Our family recipe makes a handsome, sturdy cookie with a slightly sweet, richly spiced flavor. Susan and I started substituting brandy for the water, which just kicks the fig flavor up into overdrive. The traditional shape is a sort of crescent claw, which you can see in the bottom of the photo, but last year, we experimented with a ravioli press to make round cookie pockets, and this year we decided to try some autumn leaf shapes with a cookie cutter.
9 Cups flour
2 Cups butter-flavored Crisco
1-1/2 Cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla (Mexican vanilla is the best)
2 Cups whole milk
Cut the shortening into the flour until it makes small pea-sized pieces. Mix milk, vanilla and sugar together in a bowl. Make a "well" in the middle of the bowl of flour/Crisco mix. Pour liquid mixture into the well and mix dough. Knead until dough is smooth. We usually cover and refrigerate while we make the filling.
2 pounds dried figs
6-12 whole pitted dates
½ pound raisins
1 pound pecans
1 pkg candied orange peel (we also add a package of citron)
1-1/2 Cups sugar
½ Cup warm water (we substitute brandy)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
Cut off stems from figs, cut in quarters for ease of grinding. Mix figs, dates, raisins, pecans, orange peel, and citron in a large bowl and grind together (I use the grinder attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer) Add spices to ground mixture. Mix sugar with warm water (or brandy!) and add to fig mixture. Mix it up really well. Your arms will get tired, but sipping the brandy will put strength back in them.
The fig mixture should be dense and sticky when you’re done, but moist enough to easily shape into logs. We sometimes have to add a little more brandy if it’s too dry, or just because we like the brandy and want more. ;) Take pieces of fig mixture and roll into little logs about the diameter of your index finger for placing onto strips of rolled dough. You may need to wet your hands slightly to make it easier to work with the sticky figs. We do an assembly line of log-making, setting them aside on baking pans for the next stage where we roll them into the cookie dough. At this point, you may be tempted to make jokes about the appearance of the fig logs, based on their size, shape, and color. We always give in to temptation, especially because at this point we’ve been sampling the brandy to make sure that it’s good enough for our cookies.
Roll out the cookie dough into long rectangles big enough to wrap around the fig logs. Completely cover figs with dough and cut into cookie shapes with a small knife. Brush with eggwash for a nice brown color. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Makes about 5-6 dozen cookies, and we usually have leftover figs.