S.A.L.T. Festive Feast: Sicilian Buccellati Cookies

While holiday travel remains complicated for many of us this year, there’s no restriction on where a little imagination and inspiration can take us in the kitchen. Looking forward to the Summer 2022 European Grand Voyage itinerary on Silver Moon, we reached out to a few chefs and culinary authorities along the route to find out what tastes and traditions they’re excited about and how we can bring some of that local flavor to our own holiday tables. For dessert, we’re delighted to share a Sicilian classic: Buccellati, fig and nut-filled Christmas cookies.

A Sweet Christmas in Sicily

As we call at Giardini Naxos as well as Palermo, we check in with Fabrizia Lanza, the doyenne of earthy Sicilian cooking who runs the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school and culinary center on her family’s famed estate, Casa Vecchie. Sicily is known for its colorful, sometimes cloyingly sweet cornucopia of pastries, cakes and other treats. Buccellati, fig and nut-filled Christmas cookies, is a particular favorite of holiday bakers.

“Buccellati is a regional dish we make all over Sicily with great pride,” Fabrizia reports. “I feel it is very Middle Eastern in influence. In North Africa they do a similar version with dates; in Malta with figs, and there are other variations in Lebanon and Armenia. The idea of using preserved fruits is, per se, a treat, as you are capturing the very essence of sweetness for the cold months.”

Fabrizia notes that while at her house they use figs they’ve dried themselves from the summer’s harvest, it’s perfectly fine to use store bought or even supplement with fig jam. For more on Fabrizia, her family traditions and the compelling cuisine of this beautiful island, tune in to our two-episode trip to Sicily on the podcast S.A.L.T Lab Radio.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 500 grams (4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 100 grams (½ cup) sugar
  • 125 grams (4.4 oz) lard or butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 8 grams (1 tsp) ammonium bicarbonate or baking powder
  • 30 ml (⅛ cup) milk, or as needed

For the filling:

  • 300 grams (2 cups) dried figs, minced
  • 100 grams (1 cup) walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • 130 grams (1 cup) almonds, toasted and finely chopped
  • 70 grams (½ cup) pistachios, toasted and finely chopped (all nuts should be toasted at 350F for 8-10 min and cooled)
  • 200 grams (8 oz jar) orange or tangerine marmalade 300 ml (1 ¼ cups)
  • mosto cotto, or ½ cup molasses thinned with white wine

For the icing:

  • 320 grams (2 cups) confectioners sugar
  • Juice of 1-2 lemons
  • Colored sprinkles, for decoration

Method:

  1. By hand or in a mixer, mix the dough ingredients together to obtain a soft, smooth dough similar to the one for fresh pasta. You should be able to knead and roll it on a work surface without it sticking. Wrap in plastic or parchment and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Roughly chop the toasted nuts and then transfer them to a food processor. Blend until fine. Pour out into a large bowl.
  3. Mince the figs by hand and add to the bowl with the nuts. Add the orange marmalade and mosto cotto and mix well.
  4. Pour into a large pan and cook over low-medium heat for a few minutes, constantly stirring, until the figs soften and the mixture thickens.  Tip out into another bowl or pan and allow to cool completely.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350 ℉).
  6. Working in pieces, roll the dough into a very thin rectangle, about 2-3 mm (¼ inch) thick.
  7. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip with the fig filling.
  8. At a distance of about two fingers from the dough’s edge, pipe a line of filling almost to the end, then fold the edge of the dough over to enclose the filling.
  9. Gently roll the “rope” so the seam side is facing down and press to seal. Cut into 7 cm (3 inch) “ropes”. With the help of a bench scraper, move the cookies to the parchment lined baking sheet.
  10. With a sharp paring knife or small scissors, make several angled slits, gently pulling the slits apart to open the cookie into a fan shape.
  11. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
  12. Bake until the cookies are slightly golden, about 20 minutes.
  13. While the cookies cool, whisk together the confectioners sugar and enough lemon juice to achieve a smooth but thick consistency.
  14. Once the cookies are completely cooled, dip them into the glaze and decorate with colored sprinkles.

Hungry for more? Don’t miss our holiday recipes for Faroese roast duck and Malaga-style sardines. We look forward to going back to sailing as soon as possible. Until then, we hope these dishes bring a bit of much needed flavor of the world to your table and make your holidays more international and delicious.