Call me lazy — but not so lazy that I’d pass up the ideal holiday pastry.
I was crazy about cucidati, Sicilian tender-butter-crust filled fig and nut cookies, that are sweet, spicy and tart all at once. I’d gotten the recipe from Lee Davis and her son Tom Giliberto for a story I wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times. This was back when I had two young children and a full-time job so I didn’t have much spare time to roll and shape dozens of little stuffed pastry gems.
My AHA moment occurred when I realized I could adapt the recipe to make one BIG cookie (a tart baked in a removable bottom tart pan) that I could slice into wedges. For the winter holidays, I prepare this dessert up to a week before serving covered with foil and stored in a cool place. The honey, brandy, orange zest and spices actually mellow with time and enhance the flavor.
Italian-American master baker Nick Malgieri writes, “No one seems to agree about exactly what — besides figs — goes into the filling for these classic Sicilian cookies.” His version in Cookies Unlimited calls for almonds which are more typically Sicilian than walnuts. I, however, prefer walnuts but feel free to choose your own nut. Another area of confusion is the name. I have read many variations, including cuccidati, buccellati, and cuddureddi. Undoubtedly, they are all irresistible.
Have you eaten or baked Sicilian fig cookies? What are the ingredients that make yours special? What do you call them?
Fig-Walnut Tart with Lemon Glaze
Makes 12 servings
1 recipe Vanilla Sweet Pastry Dough (follows)
1 1/8 cups (4 ounces) walnut halves, toasted (see note)
1 package (8 ounces) dried figs, stems removed, halved
1/2 cup raisins
Grated rind of 1 navel orange
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup Brandy or B & B liqueur
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
To prepare the tart: Coat a 10-inch springform pan with no-stick spray.
Prepare the dough. Cut off one-third of the dough. Pat into a disk; refrigerate for 10 minutes. Pat the remaining dough over the bottom and 1 inch up the side of the pan. Prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll the refrigerated disk between two sheets of floured waxed paper into a 10-inch circle. Slide the waxed paper onto a baking sheet; refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a food processor, grind the nuts finely. Add the figs, raisins, and orange zest. Process until the mixture sticks together like paste.
Place the honey in a mixing bowl. Add the Brandy or liqueur and cinnamon. Whisk to combine. Add the fig mixture and mix slowly to combine. Spoon into the prepared pan, spreading evenly. Remove the dough circle from the refrigerator. Carefully remove the top sheet of waxed paper. Turn the dough circle over on top of the filling. Carefully remove the waxed paper. With a fork, tuck the edges of the top inside the side crust. Tamp the edges to seal.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until the crust is golden. Remove to a rack to cool.
To prepare the glaze: In a bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Stir to make a glaze. Add up to 2 more teaspoons of juice if needed until the glaze drips off the spoon when lifted. Pour over the tart. Spread with the back of the spoon. Allow to set.
Toasting the nuts greatly improves the flavor. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in a 350° F. oven for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the nuts are golden. Remove from the sheet to cool.
Sweet Pastry Dough
Makes one 10-inch round crust with top crust or lattice; one 13-by-9-inch crust; one 12-inch round crust
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
2 egg yolks, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
To prepare by hand: In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, and salt with a fork, pastry blender, or hands. Add the butter. Cut or break it up into fine bits, mixing well with the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center. Add the egg yolk mixture. Toss to mix. The mixture will look crumbly. Turn the mixture out onto a work surface. With hands and a dough scraper, work the mixture into a smooth disk.
To prepare in a food processor: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Process to mix. Add the butter. Pulse 12 to 15 times to incorporate. With the machine running, drizzle in the egg yolk mixture. Turn off the machine. Pulse 6 times. The mixture will look crumbly. Turn the mixture out onto a work surface. With hands and a dough scraper, work the mixture into a smooth disk.