The buccellato, also known as cuccidato, is a large pastry wreath filled with a fragrant spiced fig, raisin, and nut filling. Really, it is just a huge cookie as opposed to its smaller version of fig cookies known respectively as buccellati or cuccidati. It’s a big tradition in Sicily to make these fig-filled sweets at Christmas. In my family, it would not be Christmas without them. Preparation for the wreath takes some effort but it can be made ahead of time in several steps. However, it is much easier and less time consuming to make one large cookie rather than smaller ones. If you prefer to make smaller cookies, you can cut the filled pastry log in 1-inch pieces instead of forming it into a ring.
Traditionally, a small crimper is employed to make decorative crimps into the dough. I use kitchen shears and a sharp knife to make cuts and gashes in the dough. It’s not traditional but is every bit as pretty.
SICILIAN CHRISTMAS FIG WREATH: BUCCELLATO
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
FOR THE PASTA FROLLA DOUGH:
2 1/4 cups white pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1 stick cold butter, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons sweet marsala or brandy
FOR THE FILLING:
Yield: Approximately 2 ½ cups.
9 ounces dried Greek Kalamata or Turkish figs
1/2 cup honey plus more for thinning
1/2 cup orange marmalade (do not use Seville orange marmalade)
1/4 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup sultanas
2 tablespoons dried currants (optional)
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Few gratings of fresh nutmeg (optional)
2 ½ tablespoons chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons toasted pignoli nuts
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped almonds
2 tablespoons chopped candied orange peel
2 to 3 tablespoons brandy, whiskey, or dark rum
2 tablespoons chopped dark chocolate (about 2 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
FOR THE GLAZE:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
5 teaspoons milk
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
FOR DECORATION (OPTIONAL):
MAKE THE FILLING: Place figs in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let steep for 10 to 15 minutes to soften.
Drain and remove the stem ends.
Using a meat grinder fitted with a coarse-grind disk or a food processor, grind the figs or run through the processor until finely chopped and paste-like.
Using a medium heavy-bottom pan, over medium-low heat, combine the figs, honey, marmalade, jam, raisins, sultanas, currants, zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, nuts, and candied peel. Cook for 25 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture becomes translucent and has the constituency of a thick jam. Add more honey to thin mixture if it begins to dry and stick. Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely.
Stir in the brandy, chocolate, and vanilla.
Place the filling on a sheet of plastic wrap, and form into a 14-inch log. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, until firm.
Make Ahead Tip: The filling can be refrigerated up to 3 weeks or frozen up to 2 months. Double wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
MAKE THE DOUGH: Process the sugar in a blender or food processor until finer in texture, about 1 minute.
Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend the flour and butter in mixer bowl on low speed until it resembles coarse meal, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, zest, baking powder, and salt and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.
Beat eggs in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons marsala and vanilla. Add to flour mixture on low speed just until it comes together. Add additional marsala if dough seems too dry.
Turn dough out onto a flat surface or board and knead 6 times and form into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Make Ahead Tip: Pasta frolla dough can be frozen for up to 3 weeks. Defrost overnight in refrigerator.
MAKE THE BUCCELLATO: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Flour a flat surface of board.
Give the dough a few kneads and roll out into a 6 x 16-inch rectangle. Unwrap the filling log and place in the center of the rectangle.
Bring the two long sides of dough together and pinch the edges to seal, enclosing the filling. Gently roll out the entire pastry log like a rolling pin, until it reaches 19 to 20-inches in length. Flour board as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
Trim the excess dough from one end of the log until it is flush with the filling. Trim the other end so that it over laps about 1 1/4-inches past the filling. Place the buccellato on the cookie sheet and tuck the short end of the buccellato into the overlapping end forming a ring.
Using kitchen shears, make cut 1-inch cuts towards the bottom along the outer and inner sides of the ring. Fan each cut out to expose the filling.
Make decorative cuts with a small sharp knife on top of the ring. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and let the buccellato cool completely on baking sheet before removing.
ICE AND DECORATE THE BUCCELLATO: Combine the confectioner’s sugar, milk, and zest in a small bowl until smooth.
Brush the icing along the top and sides of the buccellato. Decorate with colored sprinkles and candied cherries. Transfer to a serving dish after glaze has dried. To serve, slice into 1-inch wedges with a serrated knife. Store remaining buccellato in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Make Ahead Tip: The entire buccellato can be frozen up to 3 weeks ahead. Wrap in several layers of plastic wrap before freezing. Unwrap and bring to room temperature several hours before serving.