As you might remember if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I have a deep affinity for Italy, and while it took me a while to come around to Italian desserts, they’ve really grown on me over the years. These are my favorite Italian holiday cookies, called Cuccidati (coo-chee-DAH-tee), as requested a few years ago by one of my good friends. I’d never heard of them before and set about finding a recipe. Basically all versions consist of a not-overly-sweet dough wrapped around a filling of mixed dried fruits, nuts, citrus juice, and warm spices (plus sometimes a splash of booze), though these vary based on regional traditions, availability of ingredients, and probably preferences of families who passed down the recipes. After scouring many Italian blogs and cookbooks, the recipe from Sunset Magazine, of all sources, seemed like the most viable choice. (Nothing whatsoever against Sunset, it’s just that I would’ve expected to use an Italian source for this.) I’ve made it now four years in a row and it’s become a December favorite, so I wanted to share it here. These cuccidati have become one of my favorite perennial holiday cookie box items.
Like many Italian desserts, it’s the sort of thing one might make with one’s nonna (mine is sadly imaginary), thus you should not worry too much about these being perfect. Case in point, I made them late one night and planned to photograph them the next day in natural light… by which time the colored sprinkles had bled in red and green streaks onto the white icing. I contemplated making another batch, but that seemed contrary to the spirit of these, so I photographed them as-is, and they tasted just as great.
A few recipe notes:
- The filling should be the consistency of a thick, wet paste. Try to grind down the chunky bits as smoothly as possible, but it will still be chunky, and beautifully fragrant between the dried fruits, orange juice, vanilla, cinnamon, and lemon zest.
- This dough is a bit finicky, but in my opinion, worth the struggle because it bakes up perfectly. It’s very soft and sticky, and in previous years, I rolled it out according to the directions between parchment sheets, but then the dough stuck to the parchment and the dough looked ragged and stretched out when I peeled it from the paper. This year I chilled the dough in three disks and just rolled it out on a floured work surface, but it was still sticky and annoying. You can do either; I think next time I’ll go back to using parchment, but I’ll flour the bottom piece, then flour the top of the dough before laying a second sheet on top, so that hopefully it won’t stick much to either sheet.
- To make the “bear claw” shape, divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll each one into a small log, then roll out into a skinny 12″ x 3″ rectangle. Spread a thin strip of filling along the middle (about ¾” wide), leaving a border of about 1″ on either side. (This could easily be done with a pastry piping bag if you feel like breaking one out.) Grasp the long edge of dough closest to you and roll it up and over the filling, then bring the other side up to slightly overlap it, so that all the filling is enclosed. Turn over the dough roll-up so the seam is on the bottom. Trim the outer edges if they’re uneven. With a sharp knife cut the roll into 4 equal pieces; on each piece, cut 4 or 5 equally-spaced slits into one of the long sides about ¾ of the way through, being careful not to cut all the way through the width of the roll-up. Gently separate the cut prongs and bend the intact side into a crescent to pull them further apart, then carefully place each cookie on your cookie sheet.
Whether you choose the bias-cut or bear claw shapes (or some of both), I hope you enjoy these– they are traditional in Sicily, and other regions of Italy have similar versions. I appreciate the homey, imperfect quality that they possess, which I feel is a nice foil for the sweetness and over-the-top showiness of some American holiday cookies. Merry Christmas 2022! ?❄️
Sicilian Cuccidati (Christmas Fruit & Nut Cookies)
Adapted from Sunset Magazine
Yields about 36 cookies
For the dough:
- ½ cup (113g) butter, softened
- ⅓ cup (67g) sugar
- ⅓ cup (75g) milk
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons (285g) flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
- 1 cup (150g) dried figs, stems removed
- ½ cup (80g) raisins
- ½ cup (64g) dried apricots
- ⅓ cup (40g) toasted slivered almonds
- ⅓ cup (40g) toasted walnuts
- ½ cup (120g) orange juice
- ¼ cup (60g) corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Zest of 1 lemon
For the topping:
- 2 cups (227g) powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1-2 tablespoons water, as needed
- Holiday nonpareil candies, for sprinkling
Make the dough:
In a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter and sugar with a mixer until smooth. Add the milk, egg, and vanilla and beat to combine, though it may not blend in fully, which is okay. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix on the lowest speed until the dough comes together and all ingredients are fully blended, scraping the bowl as needed. The dough will be soft and sticky.
Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Put down a piece of parchment paper on your work surface and dust it with flour. Place one portion on the parchment paper and roll it out to a 15″ x 5″ rectangle. Use a bench scraper if needed to guide straight edges. Slide a rimless cookie sheet underneath the parchment, flour the surface of the dough, and place a second piece of parchment to cover it; set the pan aside nearby. (The top parchment is to keep the dough rectangles from sticking to each other in the next step.) Roll the other two pieces of dough in the same way, stacking them on top of the first one on the pan. Put the pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes, or an hour in the fridge, until the dough is firm enough to hold its shape.
Make the filling:
Place all the dried fruits, nuts, orange juice, corn syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Zest the lemon directly over the bowl so you get every last bit. Process until the mixture is fairly smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides periodically. It will have the consistency of a thick, wet, chunky paste.
Assemble & bake:
Preheat an oven to 350°F and set a rack in the center position. Line two rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Remove one dough rectangle from the fridge. Carefully peel the top parchment from the dough, going slowly if the dough is sticking. Try to loosen it from the bottom sheet as well. Smooth it out with a rolling pin if needed, or nudge it back into shape with a bench scraper.
Spread ⅓ of the filling down center of the dough, leaving 1½” uncovered on each long side. Using the bottom parchment as a guide, fold the long side of dough closest to you over filling, then fold the other long side on top, slightly overlapping so that all the filling is enclosed. Press the seam lightly to seal it and turn the packet over so the seam is now on the bottom. For sharper edges when slicing the cuccidati, chill the filled packet in the fridge for 30 minutes, or 10 minutes in the freezer before slicing. When slightly firmed up, cut 1″ pieces on the diagonal. Transfer the cookies to one of the prepared baking sheets, setting them a couple of inches apart. Repeat this process with the other two pieces of dough and the remaining filling.
Bake one sheet at a time, until the cookies are lightly browned, about 18-22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Transfer the sheet to a metal cooling rack, sliding the pan out from under the parchment after 10 minutes.
Make the icing:
Set a metal cooling rack over a piece of parchment paper on your work surface and transfer all the cooled cookies to the rack. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and about 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl until smooth. The icing should be bright white with a very thick consistency (should fall in thick ribbons from the whisk). Spread or drizzle the tops of the cookies with icing, letting the excess drip down onto the parchment. Sprinkle nonpareils onto each cookie fairly quickly, as the icing will set fast; I drizzle about 6 cookies at a time, then do the sprinkles, then another group of 6. Let the cookies sit for about an hour to allow the icing to firm up.
Store the cuccidati in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2022.