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      “Italo” Christmas Cookie Contest – The Winner!

      Dec. 22, 2014

      Italo Christmas Cookie ContestCongratulations to Isabella Sacchetti from Montreal, Quebec! She is the winner of Italocanadese’s third annual “Italo” Christmas Cookie Contest! Below is her winning entry. Enjoy!

      Cartellate (“Carteddate Barese”) with dried fig syrup

      Written by Isabella Sacchetti. Recipe from Sabina Antonacci.
      A recipe originating in Sannicandro di Bari, Italy.

      This is an old traditional Christmas treat from Puglia, with a particular flavour unlike anything else. Coated in dried fig fruit syrup, this treat is a staple on every Barese and Apulians/Pugliese Christmas table.

      According to religious tradition, the shape of the cartellate symbolizes the crown of thorns resting on the head of Jesus after his death. Another similarity is said to be a nest or a rose. But the true logical reason for its odd shape is that it was created to absorb up the sweet cooked wine or fruit syrup.

      During the time this very old recipe was created, they had no sugar or honey, or an abundance of oil in which to deep fry. All foods were mostly baked. The original recipe has no sugar added, not even in the wine. The sweetness comes from the cooking down (or reduction) of wine grapes or dried fruits. Even though the monks always carried wine everywhere they went for religious mass, that wine was expensive. So instead they got their sugar from the dried figs.

      According to Wikipedia, “the name of ‘cartellate’ may derive from the word ‘carte’ meaning paper (incartellate) that is synonymous with ‘incartocciate’ according to their typical form and shape. Cartellate are cited as clouds and procassa in an account in 1517, written on the occasion of the wedding of Bona Sforza, daughter of Isabella of Aragon, who was the duchess of Bari during that time.”

      For the dough:
      4 cups of flour
      1 cup of white wine (warm)
      1 large egg
      3 tbsp olive oil
      For the dried fig syrup:
      3 dozen dried figs
      2 liters water (or as much as needed)
      For the garish:
      powdered cinnamon
      powdered cloves

      This recipe makes about 2 to 3 dozen cartellate, depending on the size you choose to create.

      The dried fig syrup, or cotto di fichi secchi, preparation begins the night before baking. Cut the dried figs into four, without remove the peel. Immerse completely into warm water in a large pot, using approximately 2 liters of water. Let them soak overnight. The next day, remove the figs from the water with a strainer scoop and place them on a clean cloth to squeeze out as much as you can of the sweet juices. Be sure to pour the juices collected back into the same pot they were soaking in, along with the same water still in the pot. Discard the fig pieces. Bring the liquid to a boil at medium heat for approximately 2 to 3 hours. Leave the pot uncovered. Continuously monitor the density of the liquid with a wooden spoon. The syrup will be ready when it is fairly tick and its quantity has been reduced to half the original quantity. Set the syrup – still in the pot –aside.

      Italo Christmas Cookie ContestThe dough can be kneaded in two ways. The traditional way is to mix all ingredients for the dough together on a large surface, kneading it until firm and smooth, but not sticky. The modern way is to use a food processor, mixing until the ingredients roll into a ball of dough from inside.

      Keep dough covered while working, to not let the top surface dry out. Cut the ball of dough in four, working with one piece at a time. If using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to the same thickness as a lasagna noodle sheet. If using a hand rolling pasta machine, just following the numbers on the dial, from highest to lowest setting, until the dough has a consistency that is thin enough and firm enough to hold its shape. It is vital that the dough be firm, so that it will hold its shape once you form it. Add more flour if needed.

      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

      Using a serrated pastry cutter wheel, cut long rectangular strips of dough that measure about 10 to 12 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. You can use a 12-inch ruler as a visual guide.

      Now comes time for the craftsmanship… the shaping of the cartellate! Begin by bringing the edges together by slightly lifting the sides and with the tip of your fingers pinching dough by pressing tightly to making the edges stick together, beginning from one end of the strip to the other. It will end up looking like little boats all stuck to one another. What you are creating are the pockets that will hold the syrup.

      Turn one end inside by rotating and twirling it (lengthwise) until you reach the other end, pressing with fingers to stick the dough together so it holds its shape. Keep wrapping the strip around to form a pinwheel. Do the same with each strip of dough.

      Place the cartellate on a cookie sheet pan (do not grease the pan). Bake on the lower bottom rack of your oven until lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.

      We now return to the syrup. Heat the syrup in the pot on a medium-low heat setting till it simmers.  Immerse the baked cartellate – a few at a time – into the simmering pot of syrup. Turn the cartellate around and upside down so that every angle is coated by the yummy rich and sweet syrup. Keep the cartellate in the simmering syrup for just under one minute. When removing them from the pot, do not drain them too much. Keep some of the syrup inside the cavities of the cartellate and place them on a board. Do not place the cartellate on top of each other. Let them cool. Do not cool them on a cooling rack, since it is best to let the pastry absorb as much of the syrup as possible.

      After the cartellate have cooled, dust some powdered cinnamon and powdered cloves over them.

      Let them sit at room temperature for 24 hours before storing or refrigerating them. After the 24 hours, store the cartellate in an air tight container in a cool place. They can stay stored for up to four weeks. Best to serve them at room temperature.

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