These cucidati have a delicious fruit filling wrapped in a buttery cookie with a flourish of lemon frosting and sprinkles on top. It's no wonder these Italian fig cookies are a favorite for Christmas and special occasions.
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While I didn't grow up with the tradition, I have made a point of trying to learn about different traditional Christmas cookies as we head into the season. Funnily enough, the kids are very much on board.
Not only do we get to enjoy some tasty treats, but it's interesting too. I love reading about some lovely traditions and trying new flavor combinations. These tasty bites are a perfect example.
Where are cucidati from?
As with many cookies that have long traditions, the exact origin is a little unclear. However most agree that these cookies are originally from Sicily. You will also find them in the Southern mainland of Italy and amongst Italian immigrants elsewhere.
I love the fact that as I was reading about them, most people with a Sicilian link in their family had warm stories of making these. Often they got together as a family to make large batches for Christmas or St Joseph's Day.
The ingredients in these cookies very much reflect Sicily's history. The Greeks introduced figs and grapes, Arabs brought sugar and almonds. Many believe these were probably first made after the Arabs occupation in the 9th-10th centuries.
The name can vary (also called buccellati and spelled cuccidati) and the ingredients can be slightly different from town to town within Sicily. Some make them as small rolls, as I have here. Others form little 'bracelets' ('cucidati' means 'little bracelet' in Sicilian) by making little cuts on one side and curving them open.
Most at least include dried figs, usually dates and raisins and in most cases nuts in the filling. Then all have a buttery shortbread-like pastry on the outside.
I have drawn on a few recipes in making these, to try to be as true as possible, including this one from Proud Italian Cook and this from Nonna Box. You can scale the recipe up for a larger batch, as suits, but this gave a nice amount for us.
Tips for making these cookies
- Make the pastry ahead of time to make sure it chills and firms up.
- Let the food processor do the work in chopping and mixing (though remember to trim the tips off the figs).
- Flour your work surface well when rolling the dough so your cookies don't stick too much.
- Make two smaller rather than one big long roll to make things easier.
- Wait until the cookies are completely cool before adding the glaze.
- You can either drizzle/brush on the glaze or turn and dip them. If you dip, you will need extra glaze.
- Only glaze a couple at a time before adding the sprinkles, or they won't stick properly.
- Add the sprinkles over a baking sheet to collect any that roll off.
These might seem like a few things to keep in mind, and it may seem like a few ingredients and steps, but honestly, these are easier than you might think.
Watch the video to see how they come together!
These cucidati cookies are sometimes compared to a fig Newton, but they are really so much better. The filling is a deliciously moist and flavorful mix, the outside is crumbly and buttery. And that's before I even mention the lovely lemon glaze and sprinkles which draw your eyes in. These are one truly special cookie, so definitely give them a try soon.
Try these other favorite cookies:
- Alfajores (dulce de leche sandwich cookies)
- Brunkager (Danish spiced cookies)
- Basler brunsli (Swiss chocolate almond cookies)
- Plus get more Holiday recipes (cookies, drinks and more) and Italian recipes in the archives.
Cucidati (Italian fig cookies)
For cookie dough
- 1 cup all purpose flour 140g plain flour
- 3 tbsp sugar
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 oz unsalted butter 55g (½ stick)
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp milk
- ½ cup dried figs 100g/3 ½oz
- ¼ cup dates 33g
- ¼ cup raisins 40g
- 2 tbsp blanched almonds 15g (I used slithered, but whole, chopped/flaked also good)
- 1 tbsp chocolate chips 12g
- 1 ½ tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp marmalade or apricot preserves
- 1 tbsp brandy or whiskey, marsala
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ cup confectioner's sugar 28g icing sugar
- ½ tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp nonpareils hundreds and thousands (small round sprinkles)
Preparing the cookie dough (do ahead)
- Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor and pulse briefly to mix. Add the butter, in small cubes, the vanilla and egg and pulse to form crumbs. Add the milk and pulse a couple times to bring the mixture together.
- Remove the blade from the food processor and take out the dough. Knead it briefly (just once or twice) and bring the dough together in a ball. Wrap it in cling wrap/film and chill for at least an hour or two until firm or leave overnight. If you leave overnight, you may need to take it out 20min or so before rolling so it is not too cold.
Making the filling
- Remove the tough stem from the fibs then chop them into roughly quarters. Roughly chop the dates, if not already chopped.
- Place the figs, dates, raisins, almonds, chocolate, honey, marmalade/jam, brandy/whisky and cinnamon in the food processor and blend until a relatively smooth paste forms, scraping down and pulsing slightly more as needed.
Forming and cooking cookies
- Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Line a baking sheet/tray with parchment or a silicone mat.
- Unwrap the cookie dough and roll it on a floured surface into a rectangle roughly 10in x 8in (25cm x 20cm). Neaten off the edges so they are relatively straight.
- Cut the piece of dough in half the long way (ie so you have two pieces around 10 x 4in). Separate the pieces of dough slightly to make them easier to work with and to make sure they are not stuck to the work surface.
- Divide the filling in two and use half to make a log the length of one of the pieces of dough, in the middle. Make sure it goes right to the end.
- Roll over one side of the dough and keep rolling so it goes all the way rough and the join is on the bottom. It is fine if it overlaps slightly. Cut the log into slices roughly 1 -1 ½in (3-4cm ) in length. Transfer them to the lined baking sheet and then repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.
- Bake the cookies for approximately 15 minutes until the dough looks slightly dry and they are just starting to brown at the edges and underneath. They may feel slightly soft on top but they should feel dry. Allow to cool a couple minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Once the cookies have completely cooled, Place the cooling rack with the cookies over a baking sheet (to collect any dropped sprinkles).
- Sift the confectioner's sugar into a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and mix until smooth. Drizzle/spoon a little of the glaze on top of around 3-4 cookies at a time then sprinkle on some sprinkles on top. Repeat with the rest. (Alternatively, you can turn the cookie over and dip them in the frosting, but it will likely run slightly and be a bit thicker. You will also need more glaze - I'd suggest making around double to have enough to dip in.)
- Allow the glaze to dry before transferring to a container. The cookies will keep well for a good few days or more, the sprinkles may just bleed a little color.
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