Lately, things have been going pretty well for me in the kitchen. So, with culinary karma apparently on my side, I decided to try my hand at making cucidati—Italian fig cookies. Basically, they’re Fig Newtons on steroids (and without the preservatives). These little guys are amazing: rich tender cookie on the outside, with soft, spiced figgy filling on the inside…and maybe a little frosting and sprinkles on top. I love them, but I’ve only ever had them from professional bakeries, made by able Italian hands. “What the heck?” I thought, “Let’s do it!”
You know what comes before the fall, right? (No, not summer. Pride.)
I should have known by the unexpectedly difficult ingredient search that this was not going to be an easy endeavor. I had to buy dark rum, instant espresso, apricot jam, whole almonds, good chocolate, golden raisins, and candied orange peel to name a few. Undaunted, though, I made the dough and the filling and assembled the cookies. As they were baking, my excitement grew. I had done everything right! Tony was going to be so impressed and excited! What a great Valentine’s Day present!
And then…oh then…I pulled them out of the oven. Barely waiting for them to cool, I bit into one of the little fig nuggets. Awful—just awful! The cookie part was dry and the fig center tasted like an orange peel got drunk on rum and snuggled with a piece of baking chocolate.
Maybe the frosting would help. Well, there was no recipe for frosting, so I winged it. FAIL. So, there I am surrounded by 60 awful cookies I spent a week preparing for, covered in royal icing and disappointed.
It’s been a long time since I threw a proper temper tantrum—probably 20 years—but right there in the kitchen I just lost it. I shouted expletives, threw down my dishtowel in frustration, stomped out of the kitchen, thrust myself on the bed and started to cry. It was pathetic.
When I had finally collected myself, I looked at the recipe and realized I had left an entire stick of butter out of the dough. That would solve the dry cookie problem. The filling, however, just needed to be changed. It tasted way too much like orange and not nearly enough like fig. The rum struck a strange, sharp note, and the chocolate actually contributed to the overall bitterness of the filling.
So, on the next round, I eliminated the candied orange peel, and opted for some fresh zest instead. I kept the almonds, upped the figs and spices, nixed the chocolate, ditched the rum, and added a little fresh rosemary. I wanted pure fig flavor enhanced by warm spices and floral citrus, and that is, at last, what I got.
I am not Italian and no one authorized me to just go changing the recipe. But I hear that even Italians aren’t sure what goes in these cookies—everyone’s recipe is different. Admittedly, these cookies are something of a commitment to make, but they are absolutely delicious if you get them right. Besides, I’ve gone ahead and messed up so you don’t have to. Enjoy!