These cookies. Oh these cookies. I've been blessed to have eaten these since childhood, but have always been utterly intimidated by the prospect of making them myself. My little Italian grandmother (Nonnie) and one of my aunts made these and about a billion other cookies for our wedding reception. They were a major hit. To be specific...they disappeared lightning fast. Real homemade Italian cookies are a made from butter and sugar and love, and I can't express the joy I feel whenever I am lucky enough to get my hands on some.
In my heart of hearts these are really definitely a Christmas treat for me. But I think the awesome mix of fig, date, and walnut flavors lends itself pretty well to fall too. PLUS, as I mentioned, I've been terrified to attempt these on my own, mostly because in my family, they were always touted as one of the most difficult cookies to make, so I had to seize the opportunity of having my friend Sara in the kitchen to help out.
Like when she stopped me from putting 2 POUNDS of walnuts in when the recipe called for 2 CUPS. Yeah. I almost did that. That's real life.
Even more real life anecdotes? That wasn't even CLOSE to the only insane thing she stopped me from doing...let's just say I struggle with talking while baking.
These are traditionally a Sicilian, souped-up, way more delicious version of the Fig Newton...but with frosting. Total win. Cucidati is apparently their correct name, but we just always called them fig cookies.
My father in law is one of the few people not blood-related to me that knows about these cookies, and when he heard from Jim that I was making them, he ever-so-subtly hinted that he might eat a few if we needed to get rid of them. So he should be expecting a little care package in the mail in the next few days.
I found this amazing recipe (and many more) in an old cookbook my mom (thank you Mom, you're the best!) told me about from like the 70's called "The American Daughters of Columbus Cookbook" --the Kansas City edition--and soon afterward I became obsessed with getting my hands on a copy. Well...goes to show you, you really can find just about anything on the internet.
(adapted from the American Daughters of Columbus)
1 1/2 cups walnuts
3/4 lb dried figs
1/4 lb stoned dates
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 orange rind grated
1 Tbsp karo syrup
1/8 tsp pepper
3/4 cup pineapple chunks
1 tsp cinnamon
4 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 eggs
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 lb crisco
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 Tbsp milk
For the filling: run walnuts, figs, and dates through a food processor until finely chopped. Add remaining filling ingredients to the food processor and pulse until mixture resembles a paste with no chunks.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and sugar. Mix in Crisco using a stand mixer with paddle attachment until mixture resembles a coarse meal.
Separately, combine eggs, milk, vanilla.
Add milk mixture to flour mixture and mix on low until dough forms and starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Cover and chill dough and filling at least one hour in the fridge.
Remove dough from fridge, handfuls at a time (leaving the rest in the fridge) and, on a floured work surface, roll into strips 3 inches in length and as long as you like in width, resembling a long short rectangle. You want about the same thickness as a pie crust. If the dough is ripping apart, it is too thin. I rolled mine into strips 6 inches long and then cut them in half to make two long, 3 inch tall strips.
Remove the filling from the fridge. Using your hands (the filling will be sticky) roll the filling into ropes about as thick as your index finger and place in the center of the dough strips. I needed to make several short ropes and connect them as it's way too hard to make one rope long enough. That's fine.
Gently lift the dough edge furthest from you and wrap it gently over the filling, rolling it into a log until the edges meet. You want to do this very gently, keeping a round log shape, not smashing it down. Roll the log gently to seal the edges. If your edges aren't sealing you can wet your fingertip with water and run a tiny amount of moisture along the edge to seal it.
Slice the log into cookies. I like to do this on a diagonal, but you can make squares. Cut the cookies about the width of two fingers.
Place cookies seam side down on greased baking sheets. You don't have to space them far apart, they don't spread much. Maybe about 1 inch apart each. Bake at 400 for about 10 minutes or until JUST starting to get golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before removing to wire cooling racks.
Once the cookies have cooled, combine the icing ingredients, adding the milk a little at a time until a thick but spreadable consistency is reached, whisking until smooth. Smooth icing over each cookie and allow to completely dry before storing in airtight containers.