The 12 Days of Cookbooks

and Italian Fig Cookies

How do you celebrate 12 Days of Cookbooks
Let's start with Day One:
“On the first day of cookbooks, my true love gave to me—a charming prairie story—
Heartland: The Cookbook.”

For the past 12 days, we’ve also been celebrating 
Two chefs in love--Colby and Megan Garrelts of the acclaimed Bluestem, 

three French gems, four pasta chefs, five chocolate bonbons, six gamers gaming, seven foodies shopping, eight  bakers baking  (including my Artisan Bread Machine

200 Fast & Easy Artisan Breads),

ten comfort classics, eleven cupcakes twirling, and twelve grillers grilling.
You can check out all the days for yourself, and put a few books (as well as Foodie Fight, Food Fight Rematch, and Wine Wars trivia games) on your gift list.

Now, it’s time for holiday baking. 
Nothing gets me more in the spirit than when my house is redolent of sugar and spice, orange and cranberry, fig and toasted pecan—all blended with the clean scent of fresh greenery.

When I think of cookies, I think of the Missouri Baking Company on “The Hill” in St. Louis, Missouri. This Italian bakery is in a little village-like district that reminds me of the movie “Moonstruck.” Mom-and-pop delis, old-style Italian restaurants, shotgun-style houses with tiny front gardens. The bakery is no-frills, family-owned, all scrumptious.
The Missouri Baking Company doesn't even have a web site.  They do business the old-fashioned way, in person or by phone. (314) 773-4122.

The last time I visited, I bought two boxes of Italian cookies.  When I put them down on a painted, peeling stoop, the photo looked just right--lots of great texture and taste.

This second box features Italian Fig Cookies—a tender dough that encloses a spiced fig filling, and is then drizzled with icing and dotted with colored sprinkles.  Just looking at them makes you smile.

You can also find Italian Fig Cookies, sometimes cut into different shapes and sometimes only during the holiday season, at other Midwestern bakeries, too:

Palermo Bakery in Chicago
Rito’s Bakery in Parma, Ohio
Bommarito Bakery in metro Detroit, Michigan.

If you make Italian Fig Cookies yourself, however, you don’t have to travel and you can have them any time!

You can make them in stages—the filling a week or two in advance, the cookie pastry a few days ahead. Then roll, fill, bake, drizzle, and sprinkle.

Italian Fig Cookies
Adapted from Heartland: The Cookbook.
The recipe for cuccidatti, or Italian fig cookies, was one Sicilian immigrants clutched tightly to their collective bosoms on the proverbial boat. No matter that fig trees struggle in the Midwestern climate—even as far south as Missouri, fig trees must be bundled up like toddlers in snowsuits to survive the seesaw extremes of winter weather—families of Sicilian origin want their fig cookies. One bite and you’ll see why. Make the filling a week or so in advance, if you wish, and keep it covered in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake. If you end up with extra filling, use it to stuff and bake apples.
Makes 4 dozen cookies
1 cup dried figs, about 4 ounces
1/3 cup dried dates, pitted
1/3 cup dark raisins
1 tangerine or Satsuma, peeled, seeded, and sectioned (most membrane removed)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
¼ teaspoon fine kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon grappa, bourbon, or cognac, optional
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine kosher or sea salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1.  To make the filling, pour boiling water over the dried fruit and let steep for 15 minutes, or until softened.  Pour off the water.  Grind the figs, dates, raisins, tangerine sections, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange zest, salt, pepper, corn syrup, and optional grappa together in a food processor or in a food grinder until you have a moist paste.  Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks before baking.
2.  To make the pastry, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a food processor.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas.  In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, and vanilla together.  Add this mixture to the flour mixture and pulse to form a mass.  You will see small flecks of butter in the dough.
3.  Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. 
4. Divide the dough into fourths. On a floured surface, roll each portion of dough into a 14- by 5-inch rectangle.  Spoon or pipe a fourth of the filling down the center of the pastry strip.  Turn so that the cylinder is horizontal to you. Bring the edges of the dough up and pinch them together with your fingers.  Remove any excess flour with a pastry brush. Roll the strip gently to form a cylinder, then gently squeeze and stretch the cylinder to a length of 18 inches.  Cut the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Place on a baking sheet, seam side down, about 1 inch apart.  Repeat the process with the remaining pastry and filling.
5. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until lightly browned. 
6. For the glaze, whisk the milk, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar together in a bowl. Brush the cookies with the glaze and sprinkle with colored sprinkles while still warm. Cookies will keep for up to 1 month in an airtight container.

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