Every Christmas, we are full of these Sicilian biscuits along with other sweets of different shapes and flavors. They are all made by my husband's mother and aunts and distributed to the whole family and friends. We indulge in them once a year. They are good and these buccellati filled with dried figs mixed with mosto cotto (cooked grape must), as they call in Palermo, are my favorite.
Along with these Christmas biscuits, we also have the annual traditional dishes that grace our tables all throughout the festivities. Coming from their childhood, the elderly women cook for days the traditional dishes and we all sit down and enjoy the fruits of their long labor. We usually have the same special dishes every year but no one gets tired of them because we only have the pleasure of enjoying them in that period. Then until the following Christmas again.
This year, my husband prodded me again. He had been asking me a long time ago to learn these family recipes to continue with the traditional dishes that we all love. They need to be passed on to our kids too so we don't break the continuity of these beautiful food that had come from past generations.
I decided to start with these biscuits since my husband's aunt still has some fig filling ready to be made into biscuits. We spent one morning kneading, learning, taking pictures and eating. It had been one very fruitful morning.
Understanding the quantities of the ingredients had been a grueling job because it's something that she and her sisters don't pay particular attention to. It always depends on the taste. Dipende. Sempre dipende. (It depends. It always depends.) Since the fig filling had already been done beforehand, I had a hard time understanding it. In fact, in my husband's aunt's handwritten recipe from her youth, I didn't see any numbers, no measurements.
How do I understand when it is already perfect or when I have already reached the right consistency? I touched and tasted and willed my gustatory and tactile memories to work. It was fundamental. If not, I wouldn't be able carry it off for my own trial next Christmas.
The dough measurements are accurate and we did it together. At least we have something precise to start with. The measurements of the fig mixture are gauged, according to how I understood the explanations.
I hope you learn something from this post too like I did. Have a good day!
Buccellati (Sicilian Christmas Biscuits)
Makes about 40 - 50 biscuits
To make the dough:
- 800 grams flour (farina 00)
- 350 grams sugar (I'm cutting it down to 250 g.)
- 200 grams lard (you can substitute with butter or margarine)
- 4 egg yolks
- 250 ml. Marsala wine (you can also substitute with rum)
- 1 vanilla pod, sliced in the middle lengthwise then seeds scraped off with the tip of the knife (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- a few tablespoons of milk (in case the dough is a bit dry)
- Mix the sugar and flour and make a mountain on the working board. Make a hole at the center.
- Put the egg yolks at the center then mix starting from the center. Knead.
- Add the lard then knead some more.
- Add the vanilla. Knead until you have a ball.
- Add some milk on the working board and knead some more if the dough comes out too dry. Form into a ball.
- Wrap with aluminum foil and refrigerate.
- You can keep it overnight.
- 500 grams dried figs
- 200 grams walnuts
- 3 cloves
- 1 medium cinnamon stick
- 150 grams dark chocolate
- 100 grams raisins (soaked in water, drained and patted dry)
- 1 orange, zest only, dried in oven or microwave
- 1 tablespoon ground coffee (the one used for coffee makers or moka, not the instant one)
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
- 250 ml. mosto cotto, sapa or saba (cooked grape must)
- 125 ml. water
- Put the cloves and cinnamon sticks in a mixer to chop them finely. Set aside.
- Next, put the walnuts and chocolate in the mixer to chop them finely. Set aside.
- Soak the raisins in a bowl of water for about 10 minutes. Drain and discard the water. Pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
- Boil some water in a saucepan. When it boils, submerge the figs for about 3 minutes then collect with a slotted spoon. Drain them and pat dry with paper towels. Take away and discard the stalk (the hard part on top of the fruit that connects to the tree).
- Put the figs and raisins in a mixer to chop them finely. Set aside.
- Dry the orange zest in a microwave or an oven until they become crunchy.
- In a thick saucepan, pour the mosto cotto and water. When the mixture is starting to become hot, add fig and raisin mixture. Always keep the fire low. Cook until figs become soft. Stir often. If the liquid is drying up, add more mosto cotto mixed with water, paying attention to the ratio.
- Add the mixture of cloves, cinnamon, walnuts, chocolates, coffee, vanilla seeds, orange zest.
- Keep on cooking and stirring until it becomes one whole paste, not liquidy but compact and soft.
To make the biscuits:
- Take out of the fridge half an hour before using to make the temperature go back to room temperature.
- Slice a piece of the dough. Flatten and shape it into a long piece with a rolling pin.
- At the center of the dough, put the filling.
- Close the ends of the dough by pinching them together to make a cylinder filled with the fig mixture. The ideal length to work on is about 20 cm. (more or less. If the cylinder is too long, cut in the middle and set aside the other half to work on after the first half. Cuts should always be diagonal.
- Divide the cylinder to 4 parts, about 5 cm. each. Work on one and set aside the other 3.
- Make a cut on one end then open. Cut other end then open. Make little cuts at the center of both sides. Work on the rest of the biscuits.
- Transfer the biscuits on a baking pan lined with baking paper.
- Brush the biscuits with egg whites (lightly whisked) on top.
- Bake at ventilated oven at 180 Celsius for 30 minutes or until the biscuits develop a golden brown color.
- Let them cool.
- Store in a sealed container.