Buccellato: A Sicilian Christmas Wreath

Buccellato 2010Photo by Sandy Leonard

This is one of the treats I never fail to bake at Christmas, especially because it keeps well and may be prepared in advance.  The photo is from last year's Christmas Day dessert table.  Now it's time for me to get back to the kitchen and start baking.

BUCCELLATO 

This “bracelet” of fig-filled sweet dough is a typical Sicilian Christmas sweet.  The filling is identical to the little cookies called cucidati, but this large pastry takes much less time to form. 

Makes one 9 to 10-inch ring 

FIG FILLING

One 12-ounce package Calimyrna figs, stemmed and diced

1/4 cup dark or golden raisins

1/4 cup candied orange peel, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup apricot preserves

1/4 cup dark rum

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 batch Pasta Frolla, below

Egg wash:  1 large egg well whisked with a pinch of salt

Multicolored nonpareils for finishing

A cookie sheet or jellyroll pan covered with parchment or foil 

  1. For the filling, combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well to mix.  Scrape the filling into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Pulse repeatedly until the filling is finely chopped and holding together, but not pureed.  Scrape the filling into a bowl, cover and reserve it.  It keeps refrigerated for a week.
  2. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator to a floured surface.  Gently knead the dough to soften it until malleable.  Roll the dough on a floured surface to a 12-inch disk.  Slide a cookie sheet or a flexible cutting board under the dough.
  4. Scrape the filling to a floured surface and roll it to a cylinder.  Divide it in half and roll each half to a 12-inch cylinder.  Arrange the pieces of filling on the disk of dough, in a circle, about 2 inches from the edge. 
  5. Use a paring knife to make 4 slashes on the dough in the center circle: across the diameter, then perpendicular to that one, and two more cuts on the diagonal.  The center of the circle will resemble a pie cut into 8 wedges.  Brush the slashed dough with water and lift each wedge to tightly drape it over the filling.
  6. Brush the outer dough with water and fold itover the filling all around, pressing the dough into place so that the filling is evenly covered.
  7. Place a clean sheet of parchment paper on the ring, then a cookie sheet.  Invert the stack of the 2 cookie sheets with the ring between and lift off the top pan.
  8. Slash with scissors, snipping the top, inside, and outside of the ring in opposite directions.  Egg wash and sprinkle with nonpareils.  Bake until golden, about 30 minutes, and cool on a rack.  Slice to serve.

PASTA FROLLA

This most typical Italian pastry dough is often scented with citrus zests in Sicily.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

8 1ablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 12 pieces

Grated zest of a small orange

Grated zest of a large lemon

2 large eggs

  1. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix.
  2. Add the butter and citrus zests and pulse again at 1-second intervals until the butter is finely mixed into the dry ingredients and no visible pieces of butter remain.
  3. Add the eggs and pulse again until the dough begins to form a ball.
  4. Invert to a floured work surface and carefully remove the blade.  Gently knead the dough until smooth, then wrap in plastic and chill until needed, up to 3 days.