If you were to ask me which ingredients typify a southern Italian Christmas, it would be those that mamma would bake with around this time. The lightly sweet, caramelised flavour of vin cotto, the aromatic spices combined with chocolate and nuts, all shout loudly that Christmas is around the corner. These ingredients are quite common in my Christmas sweets collection and you can click on their links to learn more about these recipes, such as the panzerotti that mamma has always adorned our Christmas table with; or the panforte I make each year as gifts for family and friends; and the fried balls of pastry coated in honey that my maternal grandmother made every Christmas for her daughters which she called la cicerata.
This Christmas I'm adding a new sweet to the blog, one that my mother in-law would make. No written recipe meant I had to rely solely on memory and taste and managing to get the flavours and texture as close as what I remembered them to be. I posted these traditional Sicilian fig and nut dolcetti she called mastazzoli on my IG account when becoming quite nostalgic in the lead up to a family gathering. She often made them around Christmas time and other special festivities.
This sweet consists of a centre made with minced dried figs, walnuts, vin cotto or honey if preferred, and spices of choice. The fig mixture is then rolled into finger width logs and encased in a very thin pastry. She would decorate the pastry by using a small thimble to cut out circular shapes and a spool from an old singer machine to add decorative embossed patterns. These log shapes would then be formed into ‘S’ shapes and baked until just pale gold in colour.
There is a Sicilian pasticceria here in West Melbourne called Dolcetti, a block up from the Queen Victoria Market run by Marianna Di Bartolo. Here I was able to taste another version of this fig and nut dolcetto, she calls ciascuni along with other delights. Her beautifully hand crafted Sicilian pastries, cakes, nougats, jams, biscotti and dolcetti of all sorts such as buccelati, panforte, pignolata, cannoli ripieni, paste di mandorle, just to name a few beckon for a return visit. We happened to pop in at the right time when her mamma Lidia was baking impanate, another Sicilian delicacy we love.
'Uno per ciascuno', which translates as, ‘one each’ is the name given to this dolcetto. A Sicilian sweet however that one cannot help but go for seconds or thirds despite what its name suggests. Without a given recipe, I was able to pick up some extra tips and flavours. The filling can be modified to suit your taste and I have made them with walnuts as well as with almond and hazel nuts on different occasions depending on whom I was sharing them with and their tolerance to various nuts. Also, if you don’t have access to vin cotto, you can substitute this ingredient with honey. I have therefore chosen to make my version and share the recipe as part of our Christmas edition for Cucina Conversations.
Ciascuni (Sicilian Fig & Nut Dolcetti)
240 g all purpose (plain) flour
30 g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
50 g butter
3 tbsp milk
350 g dried figs
75 g either walnuts, hazel nuts or almonds
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg or cloves
20 g organic orange peel (I used the peel of my parent’s mandarins I saved and froze from their winter harvest)
50 g castor sugar
50 ml vin cotto or honey (if using honey, I would halve the sugar content in the mixture)
Using a food processor, grind the nuts to a medium course consistency and set aside. Place flour and chilled butter in the food processor and pulse until course breadcrumb like consistency.
In a separate bowl beat the egg and milk lightly with a fork and add this to the flour and butter mixture in the food processor. Continue to pulse until the mixture forms dough. If the mixture is too dry (this depends on the size of your egg) then add another tablespoon of milk. Remove the dough and cover with cling wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove and discard the stalks from the figs and place in the food processor. Add the sugar, peel and spices to the bowl and process using the pulse mode. Add the vin cotto or honey and continue to process using the pulse mode until a fine paste is achieved. Add the nuts and continue to process until combined.
Divide the dough into four pieces and work each piece separately using the pasta machine. Roll out the dough on the widest setting 3 times and then on the third setting to create a thin sheet. Repeat this with the rest of the dough.
Cut the sheets into rectangles of approximately 4 ½ cm wide and 10 cm long using a rotary cutter.
Roll out pieces of the fig mixture approximately 1 cm in diameter and 4 cm in length. Place in the centre of the pastry and raise the sides so that they stick to the fig mixture, leaving the top and ends open.
Pre heat oven at 180 C. Place dolcetti on a lined tray and brush the pastry with milk. Bake for 20 minutes until slightly golden. Allow to cool before serving.
The sweet morsels adjacent are another Sicilian delicacy made from sesame seeds, almonds, sugar and honey, and are called la giuggiulena. This too will appear on our Christmas table this year and you can find the recipe here.
My fellow Cucina Conversations bloggers have a list of their own Christmas menu ideas I will link you to once they have published, and include:
- Risotto al Prosecco served as a main at Italian Kiwi Lisa
- Cioccolata Calda, an Italian style hot chocolate at Pancakes & Biscotti
- Spatzle, a northern Italian dish & Panna Cotta topped with fruit gelee at Turin Mamma
- Torrone morbido, a traditional soft nougat at La Dani Gourmet
- Struffoli, decadent balls of pastry covered in honey at Flavia's Flavors
- Fichi Secchi Ripieni, stuffed dried figs at Marmellata di Cipolle
Extending my warmest wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I thank you for your messages and support and have enjoyed meeting new people and hearing stories attached to your recipes too. I will be back here and on IG in 2018 with more recipes cooked from the heart and a planned trip to Italy mid year to further explore my family heritage. Xx