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An Italian Christmas cookie tin
1 dough, 2 cookies, plus the easiest melt-and-stir chocolate salame
I’ve always admired people who have the energy and motivation to bake a variety of different cookies at this time of year and love looking at the different designs and colours of all the cookies — I mean, what a feat! My mother and I did them together one year for her best friend when she had cancer and couldn’t finish doing her famous cookie tin and it was a true labour of love (here are her buttery matcha almond cookies).
I don’t have the time to do so many now but I tried to think of the simplest kind of cookie tin job (one dough for two different types of cookies — though the New York Times has me beat, one dough for 6 cookies!) with the easiest melt and stir chocolate salame that doesn’t even need any baking.
The star, for sure, are the Sicilian buccellati cookies. The first time I tasted these I thought, omg this is the best cookie that was ever invented. If you have a fig fan among your cookie receivers they will love this. Heavy on dried fruit and nuts, scented with orange zest and cinnamon, and covered in icing and sprinkles (or chopped pistachios), they are so Christmassy and festive — for sure, the buccellati will be the first plucked out of the cookie tin!
That’s not to take away from the second cookie, which I would simply call a spiced Christmas cookie — we make some form of these every year. These are simpler, they are really easy for kids to help you make and decorate for that special, personalised touch (where all the icing and ALL the sprinkled are heaped onto the one cookie, ha!). It just wouldn’t be Christmas without these. This dough is basically my favourite 1891 Artusi shortcrust pastry with ground spices heaped into the dough — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, fennel, star anise. Use whatever you like, even just cinnamon. You can also leave them spice-less and turn them into occhio di bue (bullseye or jam-filled cookies) with some raspberry jam and the right cookie cutters (for these, follow the directions here, which also happens to be a gluten-free version of this dough recipe).
The third option that I’ve put in these is salame al cioccolato, or chocolate salame. This is such a good one — I usually base mine off Olivia Cavalli’s recipe (which does not include eggs) with whatever I happen to have on hand. This one has sultanas, pistachio, walnuts and broken up biscotti inside (use any biscuits you have lying around, those broken ones in the bottom of the cookie jar are perfect). It’s one you can do while the oven is occupied with the other cookies as you only need to melt the chocolate and butter and then stir the other things in; it hardens in the fridge.
A batch of three cookies is realistically my limit at the moment, but if you want some extra colour or something else in there, why not add some favourite treats that you don’t have to make — candy canes, gianduiotti chocolates wrapped like gold bars, little meringues, whatever favourite things the person you’re gifting this to may like.
This makes about 18-20 buccellati (which are fairly large), 30-35 spiced cookies and 16 pieces of chocolate salame. The cookie tin I have styled this in is quite large (19cm squared/7.5 inches), which fit about 6 buccellati, 7 spiced cookies and 4 pieces of chocolate salame but you could do smaller packages with fewer pieces in each. Or double these if you need to!
Here is what you’ll need:
(which is actually an excellent shortcrust pastry)
500 grams plain flour
250 grams cold butter, diced
150 grams powdered sugar (or superfine white sugar)
4 eggs (separate 2 of them and set the whites aside)
1 unwaxed, organic (if possible) orange, zested
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or mixed spices (I also like nutmeg, cloves, all spice, star anise, aniseed)
Place the flour and butter in a large bowl and rub the butter into the flour until no more large chunks of butter are present. You can do this in a food processor too. Add the sugar and 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks and combine until it is almost together (I’m using my hands to do this but again, if you have a food processor just keep whizzing it up there until it *just* starts to come together, do not overmix).
At this point split the dough in half — to one half, add the orange zest (try lemon if you don’t have an orange), to the other half add the spices and continue mixing just until it is combined. Rest the dough for at least 30 minutes in the fridge but it is best when the dough is completely chilled and stiff like a block of butter that you’ve just pulled from the fridge.
Now you have 2 doughs for 2 different cookies.
150 grams dried figs, halved
50 grams raisins
40 grams walnuts and pistachios (or your favourite nuts)
2 tablespoons honey
75 grams (1/4 cup) jam such as fig, apricot or marmalade
1 unwaxed, organic orange, zested
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Icing (recipe follows)
handful of sprinkles or finely chopped pistachios — or both!
Soak the figs and raisins in just boiled water for about 15 minutes to soften. Drain them completely then pulse them in a food processor until they become like a rough paste. Place this is a bowl, then pulse the nuts until they are chopped coarsely but finely. Add them to the figs, along with the honey, jam, orange zest and cinnamon. Let this chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Overnight is even better, if you are good at preparing things in advance, as the flavours have time to develop.
To form the buccellati, cut the chilled dough into two portions and work one portion at a time (keeping the rest chilled). Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a long rectangle, the thickness of about 2-3mm (1/8 inch). Place filling along the middle of the rectangle, lengthways, in a long, thin log shape, no more than 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide. Roll the pastry around it to enclose completely, overlapping just a little bit, trimming off any extra pastry. Roll the log gently with the palms of your hands to seal the edges and lengthen the log ever so slightly. Cut into 7cm (3 inch) pieces with a diagonal cut.
Pastry off cuts: lump them all together and chill it while you’re working on the other buccellati if you can. When you’ve finished you can roll these out again (be careful to handle them as little as possible so you don’t overwork this dough too much) and continue making more. I don’t leave any scraps behind!
Heat the oven to 180°C.
Prepare a baking tray lined with parchment paper. To make the X shape, cut a 3cm incision from top and bottom of the logs (leaving it attached in the middle) and separate gently to form an "X". To make an arch, make 1.5cm incisions along one side of the log, then gently bend to form into an arch. Place on the lined baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the pastry is still quite pale. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
250 grams sifted powdered sugar
4-5 tablespoons of water or as needed
These are delicious on their own too, but if you want to decorate with icing, mix the water into the powdered sugar in a bowl, one spoonful at a time, until you have a thick, very smooth icing. Spoon or brush the glaze over the tops of the cookies and either leave as they are, or top with a pinch of chopped pistachios or coloured sprinkles. This will be enough to ice the cookies below too.
Let them harden completely before packing or serving them.
SPICED CHRISTMAS COOKIES:
To make the spiced cookies, you just need to roll out the chilled dough to about 3-5mm thickness on a floured surface. Cut out the shapes you like and place them on a lined baking tray. Any scraps can be saved, rolled together, chilled and cut out again. Bake at 180°C for 10 minutes or until they are pale but dry to the touch. Remove and let cool completely before icing (if you like) with the icing above.
SALAME AL CIOCCOLATO:
100 grams butter
75 grams dark chocolate
50 grams cocoa powder
50 grams powdered sugar
50 grams (handful of) raisins (or dried cranberries or cherries)
50 grams your favourite nuts (walnuts, pistachio, pine nuts etc)
5 or 6 cookies, broken into pieces (or crumbled completely if very hard)
Splash of rum if you like
Melt the butter and chocolate together over a bain marie or in a microwave if you have one. Stir though the other ingredients. Lay this out on a long sheet of parchment paper and add the chocolate mixture in a way that it forms a long log shape. Roll the parchment paper over the chocolate mixture and carefully smooth out and shape into a log. Twist the ends of the paper to keep the shape and place in the fridge until completely set and hardened, about 1 hour. Remove from the fridge and dust the salame in some extra cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Slice into thick slices. A tip for cutting nice rounds — use a serrated knife.
The dough and buccellati filling can all be made a day or two or three in advance.
If your kids are helping you decorate, set them up with a tray for catching all those rolling sprinkles that will otherwise end up on the floor. Or even better, choose flat sprinkles not the round ones!
When packing the tins, use parchment paper or tissue paper to separate each type of cookie. If your tin is really large but you don’t want it to look too empty, pack a napkin or cloth at the bottom to give a bit of lift, or even use some extra parchment paper, scrunched for volume. Then lay a napkin over the top (or tissue paper) and start packing!
The chocolate salame melts quickly in the warmth of your hands so the dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa helps not get sticky fingers. Pack these last just to make sure you don’t get any chocolate anywhere else!
See my instagram stories for a mini visual tutorial!