I don't care what anybody says, this recipe makes one fantastic cookie, whether you're Sicilian or not! They're super crispy on the outside, moist and figgy on the inside, and bursting with pure Mediterranean flavor. But the best part is they're so darn easy to make! So you should make a big ol' batch for St. Joseph's Day.
THE DOUGH: 8 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups melted Crisco shortening
2 whole eggs, beaten
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup scalded milk
2 tsp. vanilla
To make the dough, first mix together the flour and the baking soda in a large bowl. Then, in an electric mixer, whip the Crisco, eggs, sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth and fully blended. Now, a little at a time, add the flour to the Crisco/egg mix and knead it into a resilient 'doughball.' Hint: Dough hooks or a good processor do an excellent job of kneading and save you considerable time.
When the dough is ready, wrap it in plastic film and set it aside until you make the fig paste. Here's how that's done:
THE FIG MIXTURE: 1-1/2 lbs. dry figs
1/2 lb. dates
1/2 lb. raisins
1/2 lb. mixed nuts (walnuts/pecans)
1/2 orange (peel and all)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 lb. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 full jigger of whiskey
In a food grinder, fine-grind all the dried fruits and nuts, as well as the orange (or chop them fine with the cutting blade of your food processor). Then, in a large bowl, mix in the remaining ingredients and stir everything together well (again, the dough hook attachment on your mixer will save you a lot of time and elbow grease because the paste turns thick once the brown sugar is added).
Then, when everything is uniformly mixed, set the paste aside for about 10 minutes to 'cure.'
At this point, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Now, in small batches, roll out the dough and cut it into thin strips about 2 inches wide by 12 inches long. Then run a bead of the fig paste filling directly down the center of the dough strip and wrap the dough around the stuffing. Seal in the filling by rolling the dough back and forth with your finger tips a couple of times. Then cut the dough into cookies about 2 inches long, place them on a greased cookie sheet, and bake them at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until they turn a honey brown.
A Little Italian Lagniappe
** If you want to make real Sicilian sesame cookies, just make the dough, roll it out with your fingertips into a 3/4 inch diameter tube shape, cut the tube into 2 inch cookies, top each one with toasted sesame seeds, and bake them on a greased cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes. You'll think you're sitting in the Piazza d'Italia in Rome!
Note: This is the guarded recipe of the late Nina Scalia Bruscato, who gave it to me because I married her youngest daughter. There are no better Italian cookies anywhere! Thanks, Mama!