What’s in a name? Cucidati and X cookies

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What prompts you to try a recipe? Is it the ingredients? A technique to learn? The photo?

Or the name?

I am attracted to names that have culture or history behind them, especially if they evoke the smells and flavours of places long ago and far away. Why have pinwheels when there is rugelache, sweet bread when there is krantz or babka, meat loaf when we can have farsumagru, pasties instead of borek or saltenas, or chocolate scrolls when there is kakaós csiga?

(Then, I am also fascinated by recipes with unusual ingredients and techniques. Like turduken, or the Tabrizi kofteh, or 90% hydration bread, or making Ratatouille’s ratatouille.)

Reading about these recipes, their origins and histories, and each step involved, is almost as good as tasting the food itself. I suppose, I studied literature at university and have always been susceptible to the magic of a well-turned phrase. Also as the saying goes: “This is what recipes are, stories of pretend meals.”  

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Cucidati is one of these recipes that got my attention with an intriguing name. A spiced Italian fig cookie that is made at Christmas, the name means ‘little bracelets’. Italians, especially Sicilians, still call these “mum’s cookies” and for them, it wouldn’t be Christmas without cucidati.

While the cookies might be like a version of fig newtons or other filled cookies, the name cucidati and the distinctive crescent shape made the recipe intriguing. I’ve read different versions of the recipe and wondered about who made the first batch of cucidati (and is the singular form of the noun cucidato?), whether it came from Sicily and shows the influence of Arabic cuisine in the spiced fig filling, and whether anyone ever tried to wear it as a bracelet.

So, when I saw this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe is X cookies, or Nick Malgieri’s riff on cucidati, I became all excited and couldn’t resist making two shapes: the traditional ‘bracelet’ and the X shape. I also couldn’t resist icing some of the cookies with royal icing (as some traditional recipes call for), and dusting the others with icing sugar (as Nick Malgieri’s recipe asks for).

So it was that we had a festival of cucidati, a preview of Christmas.

And prompted us to say, “Let’s go to Sicily again!” – because this was one tasty cookie. Mr Gander took one bite and exclaimed “Oh yum! What is it?”. My explanation led us to reminisce about all the jam tarts and sweet glazed media lunas we ate, and the pastry shops (with more varieties of pastry than we could imagine, or realistically, sample) that we visited during our haphazard drive around that island. And that led us to say “Do you remember?” – about the mosaics, ruins, Valley of the Temples, the port to Malta, the welcoming, funny, idiosyncratic, and occasionally maddening hoteliers we met, including that old couple in Taormina who insisted on demonstrating how we should lock and unlock the front door by turning the key twice: “To lock: Uno. Due. To unlock: Uno. Due.”

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And then we decided to focus on the cookies for now. The pastry was crunchy, but tasted as though it may soften over a couple of days. The filling had that sultry complex mix of flavours that I’ve come to associate with some Italian and Eastern European pastry fillings. I left the fillings a little chunkier, so there was an intriguing succession of flavours that ultimately mingled to a harmonious (albeit sultry, complex) whole.

The icing was probably unnecessary, but pushed the cookie into the realm of almost-excessive sweetness which we had come to associate with Sicilian pastries. After all, Christmas should be a time of excess – food, sweets, face time with the family, and (fingers crossed) festive goodwill.

More TWD stuff

Please go and see what other TWD bakers have done with this, and I just couldn’t resist also showing you the laugh-out-loud-with-delight photo from one of the bakers, Cathleen of My Culinary Mission:

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X cookies or cucidati

(adapted from Baking with Julia, and this recipe from SBS Australia)

Ingredients

Pastry (mostly based on Malgieri’s recipe, except as noted)

4 cups or about 550 grams plain / AP flour
2/3 cup or about 100 grams sugar (I used half white sugar and half icing sugar)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
8 ounces or 225 grams cold unsalted butter (or 1/2 pound / 225 grams cold lard), cut into pieces
4 large eggs (I was a little extravagant and used two eggs and four yolks)
1 tbsp water (because I subbed yolks for eggs)

Filling (adapted from both recipes with my own substitutions)

500 grams dried figs (Malgieri recommends Calimyrna or Mission figs), stems removed, chopped
200 grams dried pitted dates, chopped
100 g (1⅓ cups) dried raisins, chopped (I subbed dried cranberries)
50 grams candied blood orange peel, chopped
60 ml (¼ cup) syrup from making candied blood orange peel
60 ml (¼ cup) honey
100 grams (1 cup) walnuts, toasted
80 grams (½ cup) almonds (I subbed hazelnuts), toasted
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg

Optional: egg wash made with yolk and water.

Method

1. For the pastry, put flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; pulse just to mix. Add the butter pieces and pulse 20 times. Add eggs, yolks and water, pulse until dough forms a ball on the blade. Remove from processor and knead briefly on a lightly floured work surface until smooth. Shape dough into a log and wrap in cling wrap (I divided the dough into 10 pieces and wrapped them individually).

(You can also do this by hand, by rubbing butter into flour until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, then mixing in the eggs and water with a wooden spoon)

2. For the filling, Put figs and dried fruit into the food processor and pulse with the metal blade until finely chopped. Do the same with the nuts and remaining filling ingredients. Mix the dried fruit and nuts together. Scrape filling onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead to blend it, and shape it into a rough log. Cut the log into 12 pieces (I divided it into 10…)

3. To make the cookies, Preheat to 350°F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper, or one baking tray if you are only making half of the recipe as I was. Working with one piece of dough at a time, on a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough to form a rope with your hands, then use a rolling pin to roll the rope into a rectangle.

Note: I rolled out the pastry between a piece of cling wrap folded in half. This made it easier to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter, and the folds in the cling wrap made sure the dough rolled out with clean, straight edges.

4. Roll a piece of filling into a rope that is the same length as the rolled-out dough, and center it on the dough. Pull the dough up around the filling, making a seam, and roll it into a cylinder. Cut into 3-inch or 7.5cm lengths.

5. For X cookies: Place a cut piece of dough vertically in front of you, seam side down, and make two cuts, one from the bottom, the other from the top, toward the center. Use your fingers to separate the slashes and create an X-shaped cookie. Optional: brush with egg wash.

6. For traditional cucidati: Cut 4 to 5 slits three quarters of the way through the logs. Shape biscuits gently to fan out slits. Optional: brush with egg wash.

7. Place cookies on baking tray and bake for 15 minutes, or until a light golden color. Transfer to racks to cool. Ice with royal icing and sprinkles (I used gold edible dust on a whim), or dust with icing or confectioner’s sugar just before serving.

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29 thoughts on “What’s in a name? Cucidati and X cookies

  1. steph (whisk/spoon) 2 October 2013 at 2:47 am Reply

    yes, I saw lots of versions with a glaze (and some even with colored sprinkles as well), and was very tempted to do that myself. maybe i’ll try it on my leftovers.

    • saucygander 2 October 2013 at 10:28 pm Reply

      The ones with coloured sprinkles are pretty, I’m thinking about making these, with sprinkles and all, for Christmas. It would be a great gift.

  2. Daniel Etherington 2 October 2013 at 3:45 am Reply

    These look great. Making me want to go to Sicily. At Christmas. And hah, when we first arrived in Rome, our door demostration involved “uno, due, tre, quattro” and loud clunking sounds as the locking bars retracted from holes in the floor, walls and ceiling.

    • saucygander 2 October 2013 at 10:38 pm Reply

      Wow, four turns? So we got the ‘lite’ version of security! Sicily was a memorable destination, and since then I’ve read the Inspector Montalbano novels and read more about Sicilian cuisine so I want to go back again!

  3. garethhevans 2 October 2013 at 7:08 am Reply

    Lovely post! :-)

  4. The Double Trouble Kitchen 2 October 2013 at 10:34 am Reply

    Great post! And beautiful bracelets. It is nice to know the history of the cookie. Thanks for sharing.

    • saucygander 2 October 2013 at 10:41 pm Reply

      Glad to have you around here. It’s a great name isn’t it?

  5. Liz 2 October 2013 at 10:54 am Reply

    I smiled all the way through your post. What a wonderful storyteller you are! And my new favorite phrase is the one about recipes being stories of pretend meals.

    You are an ambitious baker–job well done :-)

    • saucygander 2 October 2013 at 10:45 pm Reply

      It’s a good quote isn’t it? And Sicily seems to lend itself to stories and starkly beautiful photos, along with fabulous sweet pastry. :-D

      Thanks for visiting!

  6. Cathleen 2 October 2013 at 2:00 pm Reply

    I love the bracelet shape and the icing! Your version sounds quite tasty, I love that you used the syrup from the orange peels – great idea! Lovely photos. Thank you kindly for the mention, and sharing my photo – I’m happy to know that I could brighten someone’s day, if even for a moment. :)

    • saucygander 2 October 2013 at 10:49 pm Reply

      Your photo was fabulous! So creative.

      We have too much candied blood oranges around the house, I was glad to find am excuse to use it. Thanks for visiting!

  7. smarkies 2 October 2013 at 2:59 pm Reply

    I love that bracelet shape! Really interesting. Great pictures as well.

    • saucygander 2 October 2013 at 10:50 pm Reply

      Thank you! They were pretty tasty :-)

  8. Karen @ Karen's Kitchen Stories 2 October 2013 at 6:33 pm Reply

    I need to make these. I wanted to join in and got overwhelmed, but you have inspired me. =)

    • saucygander 2 October 2013 at 10:50 pm Reply

      I hope you do try this, it was delicious!

  9. Erin 3 October 2013 at 3:15 am Reply

    I love your post. Great history of the cookie, and your bracelet shape is gorgeous, icing and all. If I make these again I think I will add some icing.

    Your saying is great too, “This is what recipes are, stories of pretend meals.” I’ve never heard the before, but quite agree.

  10. Ada ~ More Food, Please 3 October 2013 at 3:59 am Reply

    Never heard of cucidati before, but now I need to try these cookies! They look so delicious, and I like the different shapes you made :D

  11. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 3 October 2013 at 9:02 am Reply

    I love these! I saw these on another blog and remarked that they would be great to play games with. I have seen these but never made them-thanks for the recipe!

  12. SandraM 3 October 2013 at 10:13 am Reply

    Fantastic post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. And I love that you did a different shape…they look like bear claws(a pastry). So pretty. Great job!!

  13. lemongrovecakediaries 3 October 2013 at 10:28 am Reply

    I’m a more visual person so for me the way to get me to try a recipe is to have a photo that just screams eat me, then I will look at the ingredients although that is always secondary as I can always change those. Love the shape of your cookies and the glaze on top.

  14. Kathleen 3 October 2013 at 12:58 pm Reply

    Thanks for this wonderful post! I enjoyed reading the history as well as the idea that recipes are stories of pretend meals :-) No wonder I enjoy cookbooks as bedtime reading….

    I agree that they have a true European feel to them – sweet, but subtle…not hitting you over the head with ‘death by chocolate’ or any such thing.

  15. Milk and Honey 5 October 2013 at 12:41 am Reply

    I’m an English Literature major too. I think we are destined to be suckers for a punchy line. But I must say, I love the visual impact of your cookies – sweet dough hieroglyphics. .

  16. crumblyandcrispy 5 October 2013 at 6:40 pm Reply

    Wow, I love these, they look so yummy :)

  17. Coffee and Crumpets 6 October 2013 at 12:00 pm Reply

    There are so many reasons I want to try a specific recipe, the name, the origin, the ingredients and especially the story behind a family recipe. I find them fascinating and I particularly love authentic recipes. I loved the story of these cookies, and their shape and filling. They are gorgeous.

    Nazneen

  18. Anne ~ Uni Homemaker 7 October 2013 at 4:46 pm Reply

    These are adorable! I can eat a big boatload of these with my morning coffee. YUM!

  19. jora 10 October 2013 at 1:02 pm Reply

    The icing sounds really good to me, and it’s so pretty! Really interesting post. I like the look of the traditional shape.

  20. nancy@jamjnr.com 23 November 2013 at 7:21 pm Reply

    We were in Sicily in October and came back totally smitten. And I’ve been looking for a recipe for English style fig rolls and these look very similar. I want to make them for my Dad at Christmas!

    • saucygander 24 November 2013 at 8:38 am Reply

      Hi there, it’s great to hear these reminded you of the fig rolls that you had in Sicily! I’m also planning to make these as Christmas presents for friends and family. Most of the Tuesdays With Dorie group liked these too!

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