Nut-free Sicilian Cuccidati:
5 ½ cups flour, plus extra for rolling
1 Tablespoon, plus 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ cup sugar
8 oz. shortening or lard, or cold butter (2 sticks)
½ cup milk
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
16 oz. dried figs
8 oz raisins
8 oz. dates
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
zest and juice of 1 orange
honey to taste
Vanilla or other flavoring
Multicolored round sprinkles
If possible, make these cookies 3 days before you plan to serve them; it helps to do the prep work over a few days. Cut stems from figs and cut in half. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling hot water; add the raisins and dates to the bowl if they’re dry and hard. Let stand at least 20 minutes to soften. Drain the fruit, then pulse it in a food chopper or processor to grind finely. Add other filling ingredients and combine, adding just enough honey to make the filling spreadable, but not runny. Transfer to another bowl, cover, and let sit at least 24 hours in fridge or on the counter.
Sift 5 ½ cups flour with baking soda into a large bowl, then add sugar and stir to combine. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles crumbly sand. Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla in a separate bowl, make a well in the flour mixture and pour egg mixture in. Mix well, then turn out onto a floured board and knead until the dough comes together, adding just enough flour to make the dough not stick to your hands. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes or so to improve dough texture.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove dough and filling from the fridge and let come to room temperature, then take a large handful of dough, and roll it out on a floured board to ¼ inch thick or a little thinner. Use a knife or ravioli cutter to trim the dough into a rectangle, and then cut the rectangle into about 2 to 3-inch wide strips. Spread a line of filling along one edge of each strip of dough, then roll the dough over the filling to make a tube. Roll the tube gently under your palms to smooth out the seam where the two edges of the strip overlap, and then cut the tube into 3-inch long cookies. Cut 3 slits into one side of each cookie and bend the cookie into a curve or horse-shoe shape with the slits on the outside. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough and filling. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until slightly golden on the bottom, then cool completely on a wire rack or on towels spread on the kitchen table. Let sit at least 24 hours before icing them. When cold, drizzle the cookies with icing and decorate with sprinkles. Can be stored in a cookie tin between layers of waxed paper.
Icing: put 2 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl and whisk in ½ cup of milk until sugar dissolves. Add more sugar or more milk to adjust the texture to a thick icing that can be drizzled from a spoon, and whisk well. Whisk in a teaspoon of vanilla or other flavoring like lemon, anise or almond, and drizzle over the cookies. Makes about 6 dozen cuccidati.
-- sources; www.ciaoitalia.com, Alisa DeMarco’s www.smilepolitely.com, etc.
They turned out tasty, but I will be tweaking the recipe because they could be better. The cookie dough is too soft and fluffy, I think, and has too much baking powder. The spice level in the filling also needs to be higher. I will be experimenting (with a scaled-down recipe) to find my favorite cuccidati recipe ...