Tradition: Figolli

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Look at this treasure.

It’s a cookie and it’s called ‘figolli’ and it was made by my dear friend Jenn and decorated by my beautiful goddaughter Isabella.

There is something that curls the edges of my heart upward when I see people practising real tradition. It is just so gloriously underrated and something so sorely lacking in this world. Maybe if we dedicated ourselves to beautiful, traditional pursuits more, it could even end war.

Recently, Jenn traveled a long way over Easter to be with lots of gorgeous family members to celebrate the festival by just… being together. At this family meeting, everyone gets their hands and sinks them into ravioli dough and makes pizzas and decorates cookies. Then they gobble it all up and run around the countryside until the country air turns their faces pink. Then they curl up and sleep like babies.

So, just after their Easter get-together, Jenn presented me with this foil-wrapped treasure. When I knew it was figolli, my toes curled with anticipation.

You see, Jenn married an extremely amazing Maltese fellow (between the two of them, they managed to produce my illustrious goddaughter) and the thing about people from Malta is that their lives are steeped in tradition.

If you know anything about me you will know that I go bonkers over tradition.

The Maltese islands were first settled in 5200BC by stone age farmers, so you can imagine there is a leeeeeettle bit of culture and history surrounding these people. A teensy skerrick of that tradition involves special foods served at Easter time. On the evening of Good Friday, it's Maltese ravioli night. In Jenn's own words...

"The mums (my seven sisters in law – yes, seven) hit the kitchen in the early afternoon and we make the pastry for the ravioli together – it’s more about drinking champagne and chatting but the kids are banished to the 5000 acre property surrounding them as we get our hands dirty. We usually feed around 30-40 people so there is a lot of ravioli to be made.

The kid gets involved at the rolling stage and it’s a very messy process. We have a tradition of putting our family markings on our faces with flour – it gets funnier each year as the kids get more into it. They usually start out with two small finger stripes of flour on their cheeks and end up with it absolutely everywhere. The older girls help the little ones and the boys get their hands into it as well.

We fill the ravs with a mixture of fresh ricotta, free range eggs, salt pepper, parsley and parmesan. It’s a real production line! Patsie takes the finished batches of rav and cooks them while the process continues. She layers them in massive trays with the red sauce (just plain tomato based salsa – no meat) and covers them in foil before putting in the oven to keep warm. No one disappears from the kitchen until it is all finished and cleaned up – the kids are trained very well!"

Are you drooling?

Next is the figolli decorating...

"We settle the kids into decorating around 80 figolli. My mother-in-law has taken to making them and bringing them with her for the kids to decorate. All the aunties in Melbourne also make the same amount with their family and gift at least one or two to each child. They are just the most gorgeous people and they decorate each figolli according to the child – if they know the child loves butterflies, or cars or dolls – whatever it is, they try make it in that shape and then decorate it with baubles and sparkly bits!

There are two fillings we use. One is an almond paste, the other a date paste (my fave!). They are decorated with a fine icing made of icing sugar, water, lemon juice and colouring and topped with a small Easter egg (the traditional way to do it). These are the first thing to come off, the kids eat the chocolate and the mums and dads eat the figolli!"

Being a cookie lover, I was still completely unprepared for this cookie. Thick, buttery, eggy, with a texture midway between cake and pastry - it breaks into shard-like layers when you sink your teeth into it, and the icing is tangy and sweet.

The kids had not a single crumb. I hid like a shameful fugitive and gobbled the entire thing, even though someone had absconded with the Easter egg long before!

Coming from a small, broken family, how I ache to be involved in such rich tradition. I could taste every single drop of love baked into these beautiful Easter cookies, and when Jenn and her family move to Thailand next year, I'll be trailing behind them come Easter time, hankering for another bite.

FIGOLLI PASTRY (aren't you lucky ducks getting to snaffle this time-honoured recipe???)
350g caster (superfine) sugar
800g plain (all purpose) flour
400g butter (I like to use unsalted)
Grated rind of 1 lemon
4 egg yolks (lightly beaten)
Rub sugar, flour and butter together to make fine bread crumbs. Add rind and yolks – add a tiny bit of water if necessary. Cover in cling wrap and place in fridge for about an hour.

Lightly flour a board, roll our pastry and cut out shapes – make two of each shape as you will need to sandwich them together. Have the cooled paste ready (either almond or date). Lay the first shape on a greased tray, spread with paste, not too thick, leaving a small ½ cm gap around the edges. Lay second shape over the top and gently press the edges together. Use a tiny bit of water to seal the edges (with a pastry brush).

Brush tops with small amount of milk or egg. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for first five minutes then reduce to 180 degrees for about 15-20 mins – they need to be pale golden, not dark. Cool a little on the baking tray when removed from oven then transfer to a cooling rack. Must be stored in an air tight container. Can keep up to a week in the container before icing.

600g caster sugar
3 egg whites (beaten till fluffy)
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon almond essence
600g almonds, ground
Add all dry ingredients together; add egg whites and mix gently to make a spreadable but not runny paste.

500g dates (chopped finely)
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 cup water
Place in a small bowl, simmer gently and cook down until a thick but spreadable paste is formed. Cool completely before using.

In Jenn's words - "I think it’s important for these things to carry on in families and hope my children will do the same with their families for years to come."

I couldn't agree more. Do you have a family food tradition?


Tiny Concept said...

I am NOT a sweets cook, but would love to try these, they sound amazing. I LOVE LOVE LOVE experiencing other cultures amazing traditions - LUCKY YOU!

the projectivist said...

great post.
we had a tradition of birthday breakfasts when i grew up. the day of your birthday you were served a breakfast feast of pancakes, strawberries, fresh whipped cream and lashings of syrup.

all presented on a tray and consumed like a Queen from the comfort of bed!

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