Aunt Lena’s Cucidati (Sicilian Fig Cookies)

I have, what I'd consider, a pretty small family. When I think of Italian families, I think of far, far more than thirteen people. I don't think I'm just stereotyping either; Italian families (like many Mediterranean peoples and more) tend to be huge! Cousins upon cousins upon cousins; it's the kind of family my mother grew up in. For us, though, it's just my grandmother, her four children, and their spouses and children: one grandmother, one mother and father, two aunts, three uncles, a brother, and three cousins.

When my mother was young, their family gatherings were clearly incredible. As cliché as this sounds, the women would make enough food to feed an army. What's funny is that our small family cooks in a very similar way, though we have much fewer to feed. Growing up, we always ended up with dozens of cookies or pastries, some of which would be served at a party, some divided up between each nuclear family, and most layered into plastic bags to keep in the freezer. My bragging about our feasts is neverending; I take pride in how many desserts you can find at our table!

You'd think we'd simply cut the recipes in half too, but we don't! We always make each dessert or meal full-size, try to eat a little bit of everything, and always end up with plenty of leftovers. It's just in our nature. Really thinking about it, though, this process almost works in our favor because most of the dessert can be frozen, which means we can enjoy them for so much longer than one gathering. The food can be used throughout the week for leftovers, making our lives easier at least for a short period of time. Perhaps it would be more logical to only make as much food as can be eaten, but it just wouldn't be right. I imagine that, even if it were just me, my husband, and two children, I'd make a feast for every special occasion. I mean...why not? Losing that would be the saddest thing in the world to me.

I grew up with so much great food because of my family, especially because of my grandmother and especially concerning dessert, which was always my favorite--sesame cookies, butter cookies, biscotti, tiramisu, cassata cake, cannolis, pignolata, angel wings and bow ties. As I've become more involved with cooking, I've wanted to learn to make all the favorites from my childhood that have been traditionally made by my Grandma Pizzo. I'm slowly trying to master each item, which brings us to this recipe (courtesy of my grandma's sister) for cucidati or fig cookies. Anyone who likes Fig Newtons would love these, though they're worlds tastier. The filling is made up of several different dried and candied fruits, nuts, and chocolate, while the outer layer is a pastry, much like pie crust. You're left with a tender, yet flaky crust and an incredibly moist, sweet filling with little bits of soft, milky chocolate and hints of crunchy pine nuts (my favorite!). Of course, every recipe you see will likely vary somewhat, even on the shape (sometimes they're just little logs, sometimes cut into the shape of X's), but they're all equally delectable :) 

I got together last week with my mom and grandma to make them; I'd made them with my grandma once before, about three years ago, but I couldn't remember how to form the cookies whatsoever. As usual, we made the full recipe, which means I'm left with three plastic containers filled with multiple layers of cookies; I'm guessing the recipe yields about four dozen or so...and these are not small cookies. About one quarter to one half of a single cookie would probably equal a single Fig Newton! Unless you plan to feed a crowd or have enough room in your freezer to keep a large stash, I highly recommend reducing the recipe by at least half. 

I also must warn that there are several steps to this recipe, though each is actually very easy. It took maybe an hour or so to make the dough and filling, then another hour or two forming them (alone!), which I didn't do until the next day. For one person shaping four dozen cookies by hand, I'd say that's pretty good! It's quite fun, though, a feat to be proud of, and definitely worth the effort. You'll never go near the store-bought version again, I promise.


Dough and filling should be made a day in advance of baking.

Pastry Dough

2 ½ pounds Robin Hood flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp baking powder
1 ¼ pounds shortening
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup milk


Aerate flour, salt, and baking powder in a very large bowl, you’re going to mix this up by hand, so you’ll want enough room so as not to make a complete mess. Add shortening and begin mixing it into the flour as you would with pie pastry, simply grabbing handfuls of the mixture and releasing--I recommend slowly turning the bowl as you do so. This can also be done with a pastry blender (a metal instrument used by hand, not an electric blender!) or in a food processor, using short pulses so as not to over mix. The goal is to end up with little pea sized bits of shortening, which creates pockets in the dough as it bakes, enabling it to be flaky. When it appears you’ve almost gotten to this point, add the sugar and just lightly incorporate it in the same manner.

In a small bowl, lightly mix the eggs and milk, just so that the yolks are broken up well and the two are generally incorporated. Then, make a well in your dry ingredients and pour the liquid into it. Using a fork, gradually mix the flour into the liquid mixture. When the flour is moistened, begin mixing it with your hands, carefully kneading just until everything is incorporated. The dough will be soft, but a bit flaky.

Divide the dough in half, form each into a ball (discarding any really dry bits that haven't incorporated), wrap them in plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge overnight. When ready to form the cookies, only remove one ball of dough to work with, leaving the other in the fridge until your’e ready for it. Unlike a lot of pie pastry, this dough should remain soft while cold and won’t need time to soften.


1 pound dried figs                                        
¼ pound mixed candied fruit                    
½ pound dates                                              
¼ pound toasted almonds  
4 dried apricots                      
½ stick of soft canela (a type of cinnamon found at Italian produce stores)
1 cup warm water  
½ cup whole milk
rind of ½ an orange (larger microplane, abt 1/8th-inch hole)
8 oz diced chocolate
¼ pound pine nuts

*If you can’t find canela, but know of an Italian bakery that sells cannolis, you can ask what type of cinnamon they use and if they’d be willing to sell you a bag or know where to buy it; canela is traditionally used in cannoli shells and filling. In MI, Randazzo’s Fresh Market and Vince & Joe’s Gourmet Market both sell canela; I imagine Salvaggio's does as well.


All ingredients but the milk, orange rind, chocolate, and pine nuts will be fed through the meat grinding attachment on a Kitchenaid mixer. If you don’t have a stand mixer with a meat grinding attachment (or any other form of meat grinder), you can use a food processor, but you’ll want to chop the dried fruit, almonds, and canela. 

Mixing the filling is quite simple, but a bit sticky! You should alternate the ingredients as you feed them through the meat grinder (keeping the speed low) and should keep adding a tablespoon of water or so, every so often, to help wet the ingredients, keeping them from getting stuck and pushing them through the grinder more easily. Basically, pack a few figs into the grinder, then some candied fruit, almonds, dates, cinnamon, an apricot, and a bit of water--then after pushing them down into the grinder, add more in the same sequence, continuing as such until all the ingredients are used. By alternating, the ingredients will already be mixed up fairly well.

When you’ve used up all the ingredients, if you have water leftover, keep the grinder running (placing it at a higher speed) and pour the water into the attachment (no matter what, all the water should end up in your filling); it will help push out any filling stuck inside. If you have no water leftover, use the milk to do so. Once it appears you’ve gotten as much out as possible, you can stop. Anything else left inside the attachment should be discarded.

Lastly, add the milk, orange rind, chocolate, and pine nuts to the dried fruit mixture, incorporating it with your hands; you’re going to get messy, but this is really the best way to make sure everything is mixed up uniformly! When all the ingredients are incorporated well, cover it with plastic wrap, touching the plastic directly to the filling to ensure no air gets to it; cover the actual opening of the bowl as well. Leave in the fridge (with the dough) overnight. A few hours before forming the cookies, take the filling out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Then, feel the filling to make sure it’s still moist--if not, add a tiny bit of warm water at a time, mixing it completely in, until it feels moist.

Forming the Cookies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Your basic process will be to roll out the dough into a rectangle, line the center (down the entire length) with filling, then bring up one side of dough over the filling, rolling it over so that the entire line of filling is covered in dough. It should look like a long log, which you’ll cut up into smaller logs.

Here’s the process in more detail:

The dough should be rolled out slightly thinner than a pie crust, about 1/8-inch thick. Start out with, maybe, a third of your first ball of dough. You can roll out more and more dough as you get used to the size and shape you have to roll it to. Also, make sure to flour your work surface and the rolling pin, so the dough doesn’t stick. It should be rolled out into a rectangle about two to three inches wide. The length isn’t as important because you can adjust the amount of filling depending on the length; the width is important, though, because if it’s too wide, you end up with excess dough that will need to be re-rolled (which you don’t want to do), and if it’s too thin, you won’t have enough to cover the filling.  

You should trim the edges of your rectangle so that you have nice, straight lines. Gather the scrap dough into a ball, cover it in plastic wrap, and set aside. When you roll out another portion of dough, you’ll gather those scraps with the previous ones and continue as such until you have enough to roll out again.

Next, gather some filling into your hands and roll it into a log about ½ an inch in diameter; place it at one end of your dough, slightly off center (by maybe half an inch). Continue to do so until you have a log of filling that extends from one end of the dough to the other end (it should literally touch the edge of the rectangle).

This dough is rolled out to five or six inches so that I could make two logs at once.

Before rolling one side of dough over your filling, you’ll want to loosen it from the work surface because it will likely be sticking fairly well after rolling it out. I like to slide a bench scraper underneath it, but you can use a flat spatula, if you don’t have a scraper. When the dough seems to be loose, carefully lift it up over the filling (touching it to the filling), and begin to roll your log so that the edge of the dough touches the other side and your log is completely covered in dough. Next, trim any excess, directly next to the seam, and then roll the log once more so that the seam is on the bottom. If you want to smooth out the surface, gently roll the log back and forth so that the surface of the dough smoothes out, but the log doesn’t flatten or become misshapen.

Next, cut the log into equally sized pieces. My Grandma Pizzo likes her cookies to be only a few inches in length, maybe about four; of course, you can make them as big or as small as you like. When the entire log is divided up, make three shallow slices into one side of each piece (don’t slice further than the center) and transfer them to a cookie sheet (they don’t need to be too far apart since they’ll puff rather than spread). Gently curve the logs so that the slices open up, revealing a bit of filling.

Since you’ll be working in batches, you should cover your cookie sheet with a towel until you’ve been able to fill it completely with cookies. Once it’s full, brush each cookie with egg wash (I added this step myself because I think they look prettier with a sheen) and bake for about 15 minutes. If using the egg wash, as I do, the cookies should be lightly golden. If not using the egg wash, they’ll remain pale, but the bottoms will be golden. Once done, lay the cookies on a cooling rack or parchment paper until cooled. While one batch bakes, you can continue forming more cookies and filling up another sheet, repeating the entire process until all the cookies have been formed and baked.

My grandma likes to dust her cookies with confectioners sugar before eating, but some people like to frost them in a simple icing, maybe adding sprinkles on top. You can also eat them plain, which is what I do because they’re sweet enough all on their own. 

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