Christmas Sweets

Dec 13

Christmas Sweets

DSCN1735There is no snow on the ground, but it is finally cold and the Thanksgiving turkey is just a memory, so that means it’s time to think about Christmas. For me, Christmas means a lot of things, but mostly good memories of baking & cookie making with Mom. She’d pull out the rusty green index card box filled with dogeared recipe cards and off we’d go. Snowballs, Jewels, cutout Butter Cookies….we all had a hand in rolling out and sugar sprinkling….sometimes there was more sugar than cookie….. Mom loved to bake, and was a pro. She made a Fruitcake that I loved (yes there is someone in the world who enjoyed fruitcake!). It was jammed with mostly unidentifiable stuff (to me, then), but thankfully, no candied citron and, sliced thin, it was a rich sweet treat.


Her Mom, my Nannie Vasta, made an Italian sweet that she called Cuccidata, (we called it guccigloppa even though we loved it) which was something we looked forward to all year. It was a giant fig newton-like confection. She’d make it into 7”x3” closed loaves….a flaky pastry filled with dried fruits, 3 kinds of nuts, lemon zest, orange zest and the surprise ingredient, bitter chocolate. I found the recipe a few years ago after I was finally able to bring myself to open Mom’s recipe box after rescuing it from the potential oblivion of my Dad’s move to Delaware from our family home. I was moved to tears when I saw Mom’s familiar handwritten recipes jam packed in this little treasure chest of family heirlooms. There was the recipe for her Caponata, her Stuffed Artichokes (another holiday treat), her Christmas Bread that we toasted and buttered every Christmas morning, the nutmeg-y Snowmen Rolls (that we painstakingly shaped into snowmen using raisins for eyes & buttons) that accompanied every Christmas dinner….and all of the cookie recipes.


I had made the Jewels and Snowballs in my bakery days, as well as the Christmas Bread, the cut out cookies and her peanut butter cookies, and also, Nannie Fagan’s Famous Oatmeal cookies….but they are the subject for another day. But  the Cuccidata only once before.


I am going to  take the plunge this year. The recipe makes 8 loaves, which will be enough for all of my family (and a couple for the freezer). There will have to be some tweaking….I won’t be using lard for the pastry, even though I know that that was what made Nannie’s pastry so flaky, but at the same time I am not willing to sacrifice all of the flakiness by making it with 100% butter. I will use ice cold organic shortening for some of the fat to keep the flake and to keep the dough from melting away with too much butter. I need some butter to provide a melt-in-the-mouth texture, however. I will axe the citron and add figs instead, which she never used, even though traditional recipes called for mostly fig filling. Other than those 2 tweaks, I am going to stick to Nannie’s recipe. I will make them soon as they are time consuming, and need some rest tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for a week or 2. I look forward to the expressions on the faces of my family when I hand out the Guccigloppa this year on Christmas Eve. I know Mom will be watching us and Nannie too, and both will be very happy to see this tradition continued.

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