Easter is a very important holiday in Sicily. Local churches hold religious processions. On Easter morning, the streets are lined with crowds of people waiting to witness and celebrate its culmination with celebrations. In the town of Castelvetrano, where my mother is from, bearers parade statues of the risen Christ and Madonna. At the finale, the point where the statues of mother and son unite, doves fly out of Mary’s crown, the band begins to play, and there is much rejoicing. Easter is also celebrated with special foods such as roasted lamb; spring vegetables including peas, artichokes, and fava beans; marzipan fruits, paschal lambs made of sugar; the queen of Sicilian desserts – Cassata cake filled with ricotta cream; and “pupi cu l’ova.”
Pupu cu l’ova (singular m.) is a not-too-sweet cookie or bread baked with a hard-boiled egg on top or inside. Depending on which part of Sicily you come from, these Easter delicacies are also called “cuddura cu l’ova” or “campanaru di Pasqua.” Pupi (plural) is the Sicilian word for dolls. Pupi cu l’ova means dolls with eggs. The cookies or breads are made in many different shapes – the most traditional are circles, doves, roosters, hearts, bells, and baskets. The name is a misnomer because regardless of the shape they are still called “pupi.” This cookie recipe is one that my mother used. She would make these cookies every year for all the children in our family, including my own daughters when they were kids.
Frosting the cookies is optional. Most Sicilians just brush egg wash on top of the cookie prior to baking and sometimes add colored sprinkles, and many use plain hard boiled eggs instead of colored eggs.
Note: I made these cookies using a template cutout of thin cardboard, as demonstrated. You can find many templates online to choose from. You can also use an extra-large cookie cutter – one that is large enough to accommodate an egg. The rabbit template I used is 7.5 x 3 inches.
SICILIAN EASTER COOKIES: PUPI CU L’OVA
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes approximately 1 dozen extra-large cookies.
For the Cookies:
7 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange or lemon zest
3/4 cup milk
12-15 dyed or un-dyed hard-boiled eggs
Colored sprinkles for decorating
For the Icing (Optional):
1 pound Confectioners’ sugar
7 to 8 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
MAKE THE DOUGH: Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside. Using a large mixer bowl, cream the shortening, butter, and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add the eggs and beat for 2 minutes. Add the brandy, vanilla, and zest and beat for 30 seconds on low speed. Add in half of the flour mixture and half of the milk and mix until just combined. Add in the remaining flour mixture and milk, and beat for 2 minutes until combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. The dough can be refrigerated for several hours or overnight.
MAKE THE COOKIES: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Dust a flat surface or board with flour. Working with a portion of the dough at a time, lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and roll out to 3/8-inch thickness. Keep the remaining dough refrigerated while you work. Using a sharp thin knife, cut out the desired shapes using a template or with a large cookie cutter.
Use a large floured spatula to transfer the cookies onto the baking sheet. Lightly press a colored egg into each cookie. Do not press the egg all the way into the cookie.
BAKE THE COOKIES: Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 15 minutes, until firm enough to handle. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow cookies to cool completely.
FROST THE COOKIES: Combine the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla in a medium bowl with a spoon until smooth. Frost cookies using a butter knife and decorate with colored sprinkles. Place on a wire rack and allow to dry completely.
STORAGE: Refrigerate cookies up to 5 days.