Every Sicilian American I have ever known has a nostalgic, personal story about the Cucidati cookie. Always in their story is a mother, aunt, grandmother, or neighbor who made the most sublime and satisfying Cucidati in the world—and I believe all of them! Personally, I have never met anything made with fig that I didn't like. And I can say pretty much the same thing about Cucidati Cookies.
Growing up in Niagara Falls, nearly every childhood friend I had was of Sicilian extraction. And my mother, a school-teacher, always received from her students (or my friends’ mothers) plates of homemade cookies and the first to disappear was always the Cucidati.
There really are countless versions of this tube-shaped/fig-filled cookie, but the two constants I always identify are: a rich complex fig filling, encased in a rich cookie dough. Without question the fig-filling is the star.
Italians in general and Sicilians in particular love figs. My own brother, Tom, is a perfect example of how deep this love goes. Now, Niagara Falls is famous for many things but a Mediterranean climate is certainly not one of them! Yet my brother keeps a live fig-tree in his garden that, incredibly, produces fruit! This is accomplished, however, due to a lot of effort on my brother’s part. Tom bends all the branches over in the fall and covers it blankets of tarp and insulation of leaves, straw, and mulch. This is love!
The fig-filling personal testimonials I have heard from friends regarding the making of their Cucdiati always involve some secret preparation or combination of fruits and spices. I have often suspected that this cookie probably did a fair amount of evolving once it hit the shores of North America. I've even heard it referred to as the “original fig-bar cookie!”
“Cucidati” is certainly not an easy word to directly trace its origins. “Bucellati” seems to be the mother or source cookie, although it seems every Sicilian village had a version to call their own.
I can say with complete honesty that the Cucidati we make here at Di Camillo Bakery is one of my favorite of our cookies. I can never resist grabbing one when they are on the racks cooling off. It is certainly as homemade as possible in a packaged cookie and made almost entirely by hand. The filling is, of course, our own family’s version: a complex and subtle blend of fig enhanced with candied orange peel and spices.
Surprisingly there is a very small, nearly undetectable chocolate presence in our filling, which I think, amplifies the fig taste. Actually, we bake two versions of Cucidati: one is iced and for sale in our five retail stores only, and another with coarse sugar. Naturally, both are topped with colored nonpareils. (I never saw a homemade version without them.)
The dough for the “cookie-tube” is indeed very rich and needs to be rolled by hand. After the dough is rolled into long sheets, we hand-pipe our fig filling. The dough is then gently hand-rolled over the fig filling, creating a long tube-like body, and finally cut into small individual fig-filled cookies. If we are making our coarse sugar-topped version of Cucidati, a water-wash is brushed on the tops, and then the sugar and nonpareils are sprinkled on top before going into the oven.
These cookies seem to me to show some of the Middle-Eastern influence in Sicilian pastries in terms of the spices used in the fig-filling. It certainly is a cookie that would be at home virtually anywhere on the Mediterranean. But then this cookie is so irresistible it finds a home easily!