Sicilian Christmas Fig Cookies

Photo Credit: Sicilian Girl

Our good buddy David Wronski fondly remembers the Cuccidati his friend Joe's mother used to make for the Christmas Holidays. That young charming freshie Mr. Wronski called them "Coochie Coochie" cookies. (Smiles ensued.)

Mrs. Palazzolo's fig filled cookies were shaped like crescents. A simple search will show that there are many variations on how to shape them. Go nuts.

Speaking of nuts, this most excellent recipe calls for four kinds of nuts: filberts/hazel nuts, almonds, pecans, and walnuts. And, not just figs, but two kinds of raisins, dates and oranges and tangerines, skin and all (so get organic for a Cooky Cat "A" rating).

Also, take some care rolling out the cookie dough. The recipe is for a sturdy dough, so you may want to go on the thin side to get a nice proportion of dough to filling in the final product. The Cuccidati will keep seemingly forever. Mrs. Palazollo kept hers in a clean shoe box in the closet for long after the Holidays, to be enjoyed with a nice cup of espresso (it was Neapolitan "Flip Drip" style at the Palazzolo's).

The last word on the dough issue: In other words, these little guys are a toothsome treat, so don't overdo the dough or you'll be having a big chew.

Cuccidati Recipe per Ms. Clara . . .

There are instructional videos at the end of the written recipe. It features the great Ms. Clara and her loving grand daughters explicating that definitive Cuccidati recipe. We've lifted the specifics from those demonstrations. You may want to look at the videos first. A picture is worth 1,000 words.

This recipe is big. And complex in terms of the steps and the number of ingredients. It should yield 16 dozen Cuccidati (192 pieces), cutting the pieces into lengths about 1 and 3/4 inches each. Those in the photo above are cut smaller, thus yielding 32 dozen (!).

In preparing our batch we scaled the recipe to 25%, or 1/4 the amounts listed below. That yielded 48 cookies. Keep in mind these are rich cookies; scale to suit your needs.

For 16 dozen, cut into 1 and 3/4 inch pieces; 32 dozen cut smaller.

2 lbs. Dried Figs
1/4 lb. Dark Raisins
1/4 lb. Yellow Raisins
1/4 lb. Dates
1/2 lb. Candied Fruits
1 Orange
1 Tangerine Skin

2 Cups Water + (heat to make sugar syrup)
     1/2 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup "Whisky" (Bourbon, Dark [Myer's] Rum) Optional
1T Pure Vanilla

3/4 Cup Hazel Nuts / Filberts
1/2 Cup Walnuts
1/2 Cup Almonds
1/2 Cup Pecans

Filling Assembly:

Toast nuts in oven preheated to 350° F for 10 minutes, or in thick skillet. Let cool.

Chop figs. Be sure to remove woody stem bit from each. Chop tangerine skin and whole orange. Combine with other dried fruits and cooled nuts. Mince all the solid filling ingredients in a hand or electric food grinder, small blade. Alternatively, pulse in food processor until blended, but still grainy. Add vanilla and whisky (if using an alcohol flavoring). Incorporate sugar syrup a portion at a time keeping texture firm enough to be able to mold with your hands.

Additional Options: Dried Apricots, dried Cherries, Currants.

Our bright idea was to make ropes of the finished filling mixture by spreading a line of filling on plastic wrap and rolling sushi style. Then putting these plastic wrapped rolls into the freezer to firm up for handling. Works fine. You will also see in the video below the ladies are using a cooky presser to lay out a line of filling on the rolled out dough. You can old school it like grandma and just spread the filling with your hands right onto the rolled out dough. It's all good. 

The issue is just how much filling to dough. On our test of this recipe we made the filling "ropes" each 10 inches long and a shy 1" in diameter. Since we quartered the original recipe this yielded 8 ropes, each 10" x 1".

Please understand, this is not rocket science. You can make them as long and as big in diameter as you care to. But, remember, they are very rich, so you don't want to be having too big a cookie.

Dough Ingredients:

10 Cups Flour
12 Whole Eggs
1 lb. Lard (Yes, Lard)

     Let's pause on that Lard business. We're not trying to sell you on lard. Though in certain uses it just plain tastes good. Think best pie crust ever. Of course if you abstain on dietary or ethical or religious grounds, no problem; use butter. Crisco? It's a "no-go" with us. But, if you do use the lard, do not buy that brick of bland and unhealthy hydrogenated commercial lard you find in the supermarkets. Render your own from pork fat trimmings, or go to a shop that specializes in pork products that may sell their own rendered lard. Like our reliable Polish specialty meats store. In fact, at our regular stop they have two kinds, with and without cracklings. Very Importanto: Be sure that the rendered lard you buy is not flavored (as with onions and seasonings). Plain is what you want. On the pros and cons of lard versus other fats, go look around on the Google. It's a subject all to itself.

2T Baking Powder
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Milk

Dough Preparation:

Combine dry ingredients. Incorporate the 1 lb. lard. Whisk eggs, kneed into dough. Adding milk to bring mass to a smooth soft dough. Adding flour as needed (sparingly) to make the dough manageable. After mixed, let dough rest in refrigerator.

Work with dough in portions about the size of an medium-large orange. Roll out between wax papers or plastic wrap sheets to 10+" by 20" rectangles, shy of 1/4 inch thick. Lay the first filling log near the bottom of the 10" length of the rectangle with an inch or so of the dough showing, and use the bottom sheet of wax paper/plastic sheet to roll completely around the filling log, cutting off at a place to leave enough to wrap around and slightly overlap. Gently roll with hands a bit to seal the dough at the bottom joint and keeping the round log shape. Cut diagonally into 1 and 3/4 inch lengths maximum, or half that if you like. A decorative hash cut in the middle of the longer pieces adds some interest. See video.

Bake in preheated 350° F oven on bottom rack for 10 minutes; move to top rack for an additional 5 minutes. Since we are suggesting chilling the filling, this may slow the baking. So watch your times and give it a few more minutes if necessary.


2 Cups Confectioners' Sugar
1/4 Cup Milk
Clear Vanilla or other flavoring. Optional
Multicolored sugar sprinkles/dots to finish before icing sets.

Icing Preparation:

Heat milk and whatever flavoring you may choose. Add confectioners' sugar slowly, whisking continuously to a smooth icing.

Dip cooled cookies into warm icing, sprinkle with sugar dots. Let icing set.

Ready to serve. Cuccidati keep a long time in dry cool place.

Here is the the actual assembly . . . 

Part 1 . . .

Part 2 . . .

See the entire folio of great recipe presentations at Depression Cooking with Clara. Click here for Ms. Clara.


Oxtail Ragu à la Cooky Cat Mode

We have to just say at the outset . . . what's with the price of oxtails? At six bucks per pound it's a very pricey dish. When you factor the more than 50% bone, that's getting to be the price of a pretty decent steak. But, if you love oxtails, then you must pay the piper. And, thank all those Big Apple Downtown foodies for driving the price up to the stratosphere. We hope you bouches are extremely amused. That is, until the next "must have" item is discovered. Enough.

Here is a version based on a classic Jamaican recipe. We modified it a bit to add mas sabor. That is, we flavored the cooking oil with annatto and added a sofrito.

Oxtail Ragu à la Cooky Cat Mode

3 lbs Oxtails (one oxtail will do it), trimmed of fat.

Have the butcher cut the oxtails at the joint with a knife, as shown in above photo image. You may like a smaller cut/more pieces, in which case it will be cut with a band saw, through the bone. We don't like the latter cut because there will be odd bone bits from that method. And, don't forget to scrap off the "bone dust".

— 4 T olive or other good oil
— 2T Annatto seeds (achiote)
— 1/2 Cup Sofrito*
1/2 lb Carrot, thinly sliced
1 large Onion, coarse chopped

—1 Scotch Bonnet Pepper, left whole or deseeded.  (Not the same as Habanero peppers) Be sure to handle chili carefully, muy caliente.
4 cups Water (or 3 cups water and 1 cup beef stock)
—3-4 fresh Thyme sprigs, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon ground Allspice
—2 Plum Tomatoes coarse chopped, or 2 tablespoons Tomato paste
—Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper, to taste
1 Bay leaf, crumbled

—1 large can Broad (Fava) Beans (or Lima Beans.) If using dried beans add at the start.

*Sofrito (Make 3-4 Cups)

—1 small bunch Cilantro, rough chopped. If you have the roots, use them.

— 3-4 leaves Culantro**, rough chopped (Culantro per Daisy Martinez is like Cilantro X10)
—Aji Dulce***, chopped
—White Onion, chopped
—Green Frying Peppers, chopped
—18 cloves Fresh Garlic

Process all Sofrito ingredients in a food processor until a smooth paste. Set aside extra Sofrito for other uses (soups and stews). Store in freezer in 1/2 Cup portions.

**Culantro at grocery stores catering to Hispanic tastes.

***Aji Dulce are small green chilis with a small quotient of heat. Looks like habanero, but distinctly different; not nearly as hot.


—Large Potato in chunks
—Carrot cut into large pieces
—Small whole Onions
—Chayote cut into large pieces
—Plaintain, large pieces (Green or ripe)
—Your choice other root vegetables: Yam, Sweet Potato, Yucca, see this link for other alternatives
—NOTE: Obviously, we are suggesting you add (or not) whatever elements you may want to augment this dish. 

Add optional ingredients after oxtails are tender and cook until done. 

Spinners / Flour Dumplings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix to form a stiff paste. Knead until smooth. Break off small pieces (small walnut size) and roll between hands to form tubular shapes with pointy ends, about 3-4 inches long. Add to stew after oxtails are tender along with other optional vegetables; cook in for an additional 20 minutes. The spinners will tend to thicken the sauce, so pay attention. Alternatively, a no-fail option would be to boil the spinners to doneness in salted boiling water.


Trim away the excess fat from oxtail pieces as necessary.

In a large heavy pan brown oxtail pieces, set aside.

Add 2 T annatto seeds to oil and boil over medium heat to release essence/color. Careful not to burn seeds. Remove from oil.

Saute onions until slightly browned.

Add sofrito and cook briefly.

Return oxtail pieces to pot.

Add remaining ingredients (dried beans should go in now; canned add after oxtails are tender) and water/broth.

Cover and simmer 2 hours or more until oxtails are falling off bone tender.

Add water/broth as needed. Keep it brothy to avoid sticking to bottom of pot.

Add canned beans and whatever additional vegetables and you may choose and cook until done.

Then, add hand rolled spinners and cook for an additional 20 minutes.

Serve hot with with a nice salad. And, whatever else your little darlings might like.