Chow Town

Italian fig cookies for the holidays

Updated: 2013-12-09T05:44:43Z

By JUDIGH FERTIG

Special to The Star

What gets me in the holiday spirit is when my house is redolent of sugar and spice, orange and cranberry, fig and toasted pecan — all blended with the clean scent of fresh greenery.

When I think of cookies, I think of the Missouri Baking Company on “The Hill” in St. Louis. It’s no-frills, family-owned, all scrumptious. This Italian bakery is in a little village-like district that reminds me of the movie “Moonstruck.” Mom-and-pop delis, old-style Italian restaurants, shotgun-style houses with tiny front gardens.

The last time I visited, I bought a box of Italian cookies, including Italian fig cookies — a tender dough that encloses a spiced fig filling, then drizzled with icing and dotted with colored sprinkles. Just looking at them makes you smile.

You can make Italian fig cookies in stages — the filling a week or two in advance, the cooking pastry a few days ahead, then roll, fill, bake, drizzle and sprinkle.

Italian fig cookies

Adapted from Heartland: The Cookbook.

The recipe for cuccidatti, or Italian fig cookies, was one Sicilian immigrants clutched tightly to their collective bosoms on the proverbial boat. No matter that fig trees struggle in the Midwestern climate — even as far south as Missouri, fig trees must be bundled up like toddlers in snowsuits to survive the seesaw extremes of winter weather — families of Sicilian origin want their fig cookies. One bite and you’ll see why.

Makes 4 dozen cookies

Filling:

1 cup dried figs, about 4 ounces

1/3 cup dried dates, pitted

1/3 cup dark raisins

1 tangerine or Satsuma, peeled, seeded, and sectioned (most membrane removed)

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest

¼ teaspoon fine kosher or sea salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 tablespoon grappa, bourbon, or cognac, optional

Pastry:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon fine kosher or sea salt

½ cup granulated sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

2 large eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Glaze:

¼ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. To make the filling, pour boiling water over the dried fruit and let steep for 15 minutes, or until softened. Pour off the water. Grind the figs, dates, raisins, tangerine sections, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange zest, salt, pepper, corn syrup and optional grappa together in a food processor or in a food grinder until you have a moist paste. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks before baking.

2. To make the pastry, sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk and vanilla together. Add this mixture to the flour mixture and pulse to form a mass. You will see small flecks of butter in the dough.

3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

4. Divide the dough into fourths. On a floured surface, roll each portion of dough into a 14-by-5 rectangle. Spoon or pipe a fourth of the filling down the center of the pastry strip. Turn so that the cylinder is horizontal to you. Bring the edges of the dough up and pinch them together with your fingers. Remove any excess flour with a pastry brush. Roll the strip gently to form a cylinder, then gently squeeze and stretch the cylinder to a length of 18 inches. Cut the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Place on a baking sheet, seam side down, about 1 inch apart. Repeat the process with the remaining pastry and filling.

5. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until lightly browned.

6. For the glaze, whisk the milk, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar together in a bowl. Brush the cookies with the glaze and sprinkle with colored sprinkles while still warm. Cookies will keep for up to 1 month in an airtight container.

Award-winning cookbook author Judith Fertig lives, cooks, bakes, grills and writes in Overland Park, Kan. She is the author of “Heartland: The Cookbook” and “I Love Cinnamon Rolls,” and the co-author of “The Gardener and the Grill” and the IACP award winning “The Back in the Swing Cookbook.”

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