Chef Lidia Bastianich specializes in Italian cuisine and is the author of several cookbooks. She currently hosts “Lidia’s Italy” on PBS and now, she has another new cookbook out, “Lidia’s Italy in America: More Than 175 Lovely; Lusty Recipes And Their Stories From All Parts of Italian America Today.”
Chef Lidia Bastianich’s St. Joseph’s Fig Cookies
Biscotti ai Fichi di San Giuseppe
As much as the Italians would like to claim the fig as their own, the fig has deep origins somewhere in Mesopotamia. Then it made its way into the Middles East and the rest of the world. The Egyptians adored and praised the fig as a medicinal and delicious fruit. Fig breads and sweets were made way before the Italians started, but you can not take away from the Italian culture the importance the fig cookie has on St Joseph’s Day.
As legends go in Sicily during a year of draught and ensued famine, people would gather and pray to St. Joseph for help. St Joseph responded by sending heavy rains and until this day Sicilians, wherever they are in the world, respond by making the St Joseph’s table full of offerings and amongst those offerings there must be the St. Josephs Fig Cookies.
Makes about 4 ½ dozen
½ cup honey
6 tablespoons grappa or brandy
4 teaspoons orange juice
2 cups diced dried black figs
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons milk, or as needed
- In saucepan, bring honey, grappa and orange juice to boil. Add figs and bring to a simmer. Simmer until figs are plumped, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool thoroughly while you make the dough.
- In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse to combine. In a small bowl, beat together eggs and milk. With the processor running, pour egg/milk mixture into dry ingredients and process until dough forms a ball, about 15 to 20 seconds. Knead dough on counter once or twice, then wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator at least 1 hour or until firm.
- When the filling is cool, scrape into a food processor and add lemon zest and cinnamon. Process to make a smooth paste. Add the walnuts and pulse a few times, leaving the nuts slightly chunky. Transfer filling to a bowl and freeze until firm, about 1/2 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Divide dough in half and roll one half, between parchment paper, to a rectangle about 16 inch by 7 inches. Cut strip in half to make 2 long strips. Roll a quarter of the filling into a log that fits down the center of 1 strip. Wet the edges of the strip with water and use parchment as a guide to roll into a log and seal. Flatten the top slightly with the palm of your hand. Repeat with remaining dough and filling,
- Using a wet knife, cut logs into 1-inch lengths and place with the cut sides facing out on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely.
- To glaze cookies, sift confectioner’s sugar into a bowl and whisk in milk to make a smooth glaze. Dip a cookie in the glaze. It should stick to the cookie in a thin layer. If not, adjust consistency of glaze with more milk or confectioner’s sugar.
- Dip cookies in glaze and let dry on wire racks.