Monday, December 7, 2009

Fig Cookies (AKA Cuccidati)

With December upon us, it seems the time to post the recipe for fig cookies, which are customary in Italian families for Christmas as well as any other holiday or special occasion. Although they take a lot of time, they are well worth it. The first thing to do is make the filling.

Grind 2 lb. figs, 1 lb. dates, 1 lb. raisins (I use golden raisins), 2 oranges with the skin. Add to this mixture 1 c. chopped walnuts and a syrup make of 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 1/2 cups water (make the syrup in a pan on top of the stove, then cool before adding to the mixture -- add 2 shots of whiskey to the cooled mixture before adding it all to the ground mixture). This mixture should be made several days ahead to allow the flavors to blend. Keep it covered in the refrigerator utnil the day you make the cookies, then bring it to room temperature before using it.

To make the dough: Ingredients are as follows.
12 cups flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Crisco
1/2 cup butter
2 Tblsp. pure vanilla extract
12 tsp. baking powder
6 eggs at room temperature
about 1 cup milk

Beat eggs and vanilla together. In a separate bowl cut the Crisco and butter into the dry ingredients. Add the egg/vanilla mixture and then add milk as needed to make a nice dough.

Roll out a small amount of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface, making a small rectangle. Place about a finger width of filling along the edge of the dough nearest to you, and then roll it away from you once. Cut the row away from the rest of the dough with a sharp knife. Roll the filled dough several times back and forth to make sure that the seam underneath is sealed. Cut cookies from the log you have just made, about 1 or 1 1/2" wide. Bake on lightly greased cookie sheets at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

For frosting: Mix together 1 lb. or so of powdered sugar with 1 Tblsp. melted butter, 1/2 tsp. vanilla and enough milk to make it frosting consistency -- not thick like frosting for a cake, but not as thin as a glaze. When frosting, use your fingers to "paint" the top of the cookie, then trim with multi-colored sprinkles or chopped nuts.

These cookies taste best when the dough is rolled fairly thin. You can sometimes purchase the filling already ground at a real Italian deli, but then you are not as sure as to the quality of the ingredients or the taste. If you have dough leftover, you can make white cookies shaped like those described in November's post.

Fig cookies look beautiful on a platter of mixed Christmas cookies. They are like little colorful logs and taste so good. One of the most meaningful compliments that I ever received was from an Italian woman who had eaten many a fig cookie in her life. She told me that these were the best that she had ever tasted!

As always, if you have any questions please either leave a comment or send an email to and I will do my best to help. Merry Christmas to all from Cookie Rose!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Italian Christmas Cookies -- White Cookies

Italian Christmas cookies are part of my history and heritage. As far back as I can remember my mother and aunt would start baking in November in preparation for holiday feasts and gift giving. There were wondrous aromas coming from the kitchen, and numerous old potato chip tins now full of little sweet cookies awaiting the time when they were to be enjoyed by all -- white cookies, fig cookies, chocolate cookies, seed cookies, "dead man's bones"..... . Of course, all of the children would sneak a few now and then, so that by holiday time, the tins weren't quite as full!

Recipes are easy to post, and I will start with the White Cookies. The technique takes some practice, and I would be happy to help in any way that I can. Just comment or send me an email at with your specific problem or question.

There is some controversy as to the "correct" size for these cookies. Some like them large; some like them small. You will need to experiment to see what size suits you, and will need to adjust the baking time accordingly. They will taste the same no matter what size you make them. Not all Italian white cookies (often called Knot Cookies) are the same. Some are made with liquid vegetable oil and are much more like little cakes. Some are flavored with orange. This recipe, in my opinion, is the best and has been loved and enjoyed in my family for many generations by babies, adults and dogs.

The full recipe makes from 90 to 125 or so cookies, depending upon whether you make them small or large. I would suggest that you cut the recipe in half your first time. The amount of dough that the full recipe produces can be somewhat overwhelming.

Ingredients for a full recipe: 5 lb. flour; 2 lb. sugar; 1 lb. Crisco; 4 Tblsp.butter melted in 1 cup milk (let it cool); 3 heaping Tblsp. baking powder; 12 eggs brought to room temperature; 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract. For the frosting you will need butter, 1-2 lb. Brand Name powdered sugar (Domino or Jack Frost), a little milk, and more pure vanilla extract (see below for exact amounts).

I strongly recommend that you use only the best ingredients for the best results. For example, use Crisco, not a generic vegetable shortening; use butter, not margarine; use pure vanilla extract, not imitation.

Instructions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets. Place dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder) into a very large bowl. Blend them together. Cut Crisco into dry ingredients as when making pie crust until the Crisco in broken down into little pea-like balls. Make a well in the middle of this mixture. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and vanilla together with a whisk, pour into the well, and mix into the dry ingredients. Add the cooled butter and milk mixture and mix until a dough forms. To form cookies, grab a piece of dough about the size of a ping pong ball and roll it into a 5" or so rope about the thickness of your finger. Twist into a knot. Place on cookie sheet (on a large cookie sheet I put three across and either four or five down, depending upon how big I am making them that day). Bake 13 minutes or until they are tan colored on the bottom. Cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, melt 2 Tblsp. butter and place in a medium bowl. Gradually add powdered sugar, then a little milk, and keep alternating until you have frosting that is not too thick or thin. You don't want it to be like frosting you would frost a cake with, but you don't want it to be so thin that it's like a glaze -- somewhere in between. When cookies have completely cooled, take one cookie at a time in one hand, dip the other hand in the frosting, and "paint" a thin layer of frosting all over the cookie (not the bottom). Lay frosted cookies flat on wax paper or tin foil and allow to fully dry overnight before placing in air tight storage containers. If you have to layer them for storage, place wax paper or parchment paper in between layers. It is very important to fully dry these cookies after frosting them before storing them, or they will be soggy and will not taste right.

So there you have it. I was lucky in that I watched these cookies being made for years before I tried my hand at them myself, and once I did start making them, I had my Aunt Mil to critique my method. One of the best compliments that I have ever received in my life is when she told me that I finally "had the knack"!

Most importantly, relax, have fun with this, and remember --- "chi mangia bene, mangia Italiana" (he/she who eats well, eats Italian). If you want another Italian Christmas Cookie recipe before I am able to post it, please Comment or send me an email at and I would be happy to oblige.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hello from Cookie Rose!

Hello to all cookie lovers of the world. Let me start by telling you how Cookie Rose came about. A friend's 4 year old daughter, also named Rose, dubbed me this name to differentiate me from other women in her life named Rose. Little Rose associated me with cookies because of the Italian Christmas cookies I delivered to her house last Christmas.

The Italian Christmas cookies are made from family recipes handed down for generations. I am now of the "older generation" in my family, and am keeping the tradition going along with some cousins who also make these cookies. The favorites are fig, sesame seed, white knot and chocolate spice balls. Baking these cookies has become for me a way to relax and find pleasure in the act of creating something beautiful that brings joy to others.

My last and favorite aunt died July 2008 and as a momento her daughter Barbara copied some of her recipes for all in the family who might be interested. In the spirit of, but not as energetic as "Julie and Julia," I intend to periodically make and then publish a recipe on this blog, and would welcome comments.

In addition to sharing recipes, another reason for creating this blog is for you to share your own special family recipes and food-related traditions.

And finally, although this may sound contradictory, fitness and a balanced diet has been my focus for most of this year and will continue to be for the rest of my life. Therefore, any comments or balanced recipes are welcome.

In keeping with my heritage, I would like to close with a saying that I heard or read somewhere: "Chi mangia bene, mangia Italiana." It means "He/she who eats well, eats Italian."