Marzipan-Filled Easter Pastries (Maltese Figolli)
Happy Easter! Have you been dipping, baking, decorating, egging and basket-ing already this weekend? I've been baking some of my old favourites this week (which I sometimes forget to do) such as these and this, but I was also eager to try something completely new for Easter. I can recall about a year and a half ago, right around the time when I started this blog, I was chatting with my cousin Julie and Aunt Edith about some possible Maltese baked good recipes they may have (I'm always on the hunt for interesting recipes, especially those with meaning). They told me about Figolli--traditional Easter treats of 2 cookie/pastry shapes sandwiched together with a marzipan-orange blossom filling, then baked, decorated and topped with a whole Easter egg, sometimes plain chocolate and sometimes wrapped in foil. Pretty much heaven--Maltese heaven. See, my dad and his father's side of the family are from Malta--a cluster of islands in the Mediterranean (located between Sicily and Northern Africa). It's one of the most historically rich spots on the map (think 7,000 years of history). That being said, I visited during my teen years, and the nightlife is incredible *ahem* and much of the culture is very current, so it's really the best of both worlds. And they created Figolla? It truly is an amazing place.
Why do I have no memory of ever eating Figolli? Perhaps because we lived in a town where we may have been the only people with Maltese heritage, but we did spend a lot of time visiting my relatives in Toronto where there are several Maltese bake shops, so it's possible that I have but that it was just too long ago and I forget (kind of hard to imagine). The good news is that I now have the power to make and share them! Forever and ever. Isn't that amazing when you grow up, become an avid baker (or cook) and realize that, if you set your mind to it, you can pretty much recreate any treat or yumminess from your childhood (or goodies you may have tragically missed out on)? It's so liberating. So I decided it was definitely time to roll up my sleeves and try my hand at Figolli.
I've noticed that some recipes refer to Figolli as pastries, some cookies and some cakes, but no matter what we want to call them, they are freakin' awesome. Now, because I'm blogging about these, and because it seems logical that I would tell you how amazing they are, or try to sell you on them, I fear that when I tell you that these are likely the yummiest pastry/cake/cookie treats I have ever eaten, you won't believe me. Let me put this into perspective for you . . . They are like soft, tender, lemony, melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies with a pastry texture, oozing with the glorious almond goodness of marzipan with a hint of orange, and topped with a thin layer of sweet crunchy royal icing. And who can forget the little chocolate Easter egg jewel that's nested right on top of it all. Honestly, I love decorated sugar cookies, but these are like the pimped out version (think gourmet & global pop tart, and then pray for me that I didn't just offend every Maltese person in all the land). And good news--I looked into it, and you don't need to be Maltese to make them or eat them. And I bet no one would mind if you made these at other times throughout the year. Think about it, you could be the "Figolli girl" or "Figolli guy," and trust me when I say that everyone needs a Figolli girl or guy.
So it's probably not a huge surprise that my cakelets went nuts for these, and so I've wrapped some up in fancy packaging for their Easter baskets. What was their favourite part? Yep, the little egg. But they loved the whole thing (even the marzipan, which surprised me). And then they loved it again. The girls went through their 75 animal cookie cutter collection and insisted on bunnies, which was good news to me. I'm not sure that Figolli armadillos would have had the same charm, but hey. We saw Marian's classic bunny cookies on Pinterest and loved them, so we kept it simple and did our play on that. Bunnies? Easter? I know, I know, it's groundbreaking over here.
The only thing I would do differently next time is fill the pastries with more of the marzipan filling than I did--I added too much liquid to the filling the first time and was afraid if I filled any more that it would squeeze out the sides while baking, so next time I will be sure it's thick the way it should be, and fill them nice and plump. Just because. But, super plump or not, these are really a special treat.
Marzipan-Filled Easter Pastries (Maltese Figolli)
For the Pastry:
- 6-1/4 cups 800 g all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1-3/4 cups 400 g unsalted butter, cool
- 1-3/4 cups 350 g granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon 2 g salt
- 3 egg yolks
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Water to bind
For the Filling:
- 6-3/4 cups 500 g ground almonds
- 4 cups 500 g confectioners' sugar
- 3 egg whites
- 1 tablespoon 15 ml orange blossom water
- You will Also Need:
- Royal Icing for decorating
- Small Easter eggs for decorating (foil or unwrapped chocolate eggs)
For the Pastry:
- Sift flour into a large mixing bowl and rub in the butter to a cornmeal consistency, or pulse in a food processor.
- Add the sugar and lemon zest and mix or pulse again. Mix in the egg yolks and enough water to make a stiff but pliable dough.
- Separate dough into 2 balls, wrap in plastic and press down gently so you have 2 discs of dough. Chill for 45 minutes.
For the Filling:
- While the dough is chilling, make your filling. Mix the ground almonds and icing sugar (or ready-made marzipan), then add the egg whites and orange blossom water, mixing until incorporated.
Assembly & Baking:
- Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator and remove plastic wrap. Place on top of a large piece of parchment paper (I use a silicone rolling mat underneath to ensure it doesn't slip while rolling, but you can even dampen counter so the parchment sticks a bit) and then place another sheet of parchment paper on top. You can also roll dough on a lightly floured surface (I just find this parchment method the most reliable).
- Roll dough (this will require a bit of elbow grease for the first few minutes until it softens up a bit) until it is about 1/8" thick.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. While the oven is preheating, slide your parchment paper and dough onto a board, then place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Repeat with your second disc of dough.
- Remove from fridge, and cut your shapes using the cutters of your choice--you will need 2 identical pieces for each figolla. Place each shape on the lined baking sheet and spread a thick layer of the filling, leaving a 3/4" edge untouched, then cover each shape with its match, gently pressing down the edges to seal.
- Place the baking sheets of figolli in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Then bake until edges are light golden brown, about 15-18 minutes (this varies).
- Let cool on baking sheets on wire racks, then decorate each pastry with royal icing and don't forget the chocolate Easter egg!
- With royal icing in a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (I used #3), outline the shape of the cookie (I do about 5 at a time). Let sit for a few minutes. *Cover the tip of the piping bag with a damp cloth when not using.
- Fill (aka flood) the cookie with the flood-consistency royal icing (same piping bag), gently pulling any open spots to the outline using a toothpick. Let sit for about a minute, and then place your chocolate or foil-covered egg directly onto the cookie (foil eggs stick beautifully and pop right off when you're ready to take them off the cookie to eat).
- Decorate the cookies any way you like. I added sprinkles for bunny eyes and noses, and then piped a small pink bow using pink royal icing and tip #2. After cookies have set for about an hour, you can add a bunny tail with stiff peak royal icing and a small open star tip. Let decorated pastries sit overnight before wrapping or packaging.
- Orange Blossom Water is commonly used in Mediterranean (and more) desserts, Middle Eastern cooking and more. If you can't find it, you can substitute it with orange zest or any of these options. You can find it in my shop or Middle Eastern grocers, and more.
- You can use ready-made marzipan for the filling and simply add the egg whites and orange blossom water.
- For the royal icing, I have tried many recipes for cookie decorating, but for these I used the version I use most often, which is one I learned at Bonnie Gordon College years ago. Because there is so much mixed emotion among cookie decorators about not only recipes, but method, I'm going to send you over to Callye for this Royal Icing recipe and info because her recipe is very similar to the one I've always used, and she gets into serious detail. The girl decorates cookies (the most gorgeous cookies) 24 hours a day, I'm convinced. Maybe more. I actually don't know how she finds a way to even blog about them, but we're sure happy she does.
- For very specific info on decorating cookies with royal icing, I've included some links below. I've also linked to a recipe for royal icing from Callye from Sweet Sugar Belle. To learn more about outlining and flooding cookies with royal icing, check out this post (again, from Callye).
- To learn more about decorating cookies with Royal Icing, check out some of these other amazing cookie goddesses: Bridget, Gail, Glory, and Marian.
- You certainly don't need to create perfect royal icing designs to make and enjoy these cookies--adding a nice layer of the royal icing and even sprinkles are perfect. Just don't forget to add the chocolate egg!
- Maltese people have proven to be the most generous folk in the world, with 83% contributing to charity.
- There is a good chance you've already seen Malta--on the big screen, that is: Many acclaimed (and even epic) films have been filmed in historic Malta, including Gladiator, Troy, The Da Vinci Code, Alexander, Munich, Midnight Express, Clash of the Titans, and let's not forget Cutthroat Island--the movie that holds the title in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest box office flop of all time. Ouch.
- Britney Spears and Bryan Adams are both of Maltese descent.
- Pastizzi (a filling of ricotta or peas in puffy pastry) are the most popular snack in Malta, of which I have had many in my lifetime. My dad brings me these almost every time he comes to my house. It was just brought to my attention that these have 416 calories each, so about the same as 2 cupcakes. Oops!
- Prior to the May 28, 2011 Maltese divorce referendum, Malta was one of only 3 countries in the world in which divorce was not permitted (the other two being Philippines and Vatican City).
- UK friends, watch for one of my cakes in the May issue of Crafts Beautiful!
- I just discovered a life-changing creative aid called Creative Whack Pack. It's like religion for creatives and offers short hits (or whacks) of insight to help with creative block or just to get your wheels turning. I downloaded the app and use it a lot. And then I use it a bit more.
- Congratulations to my talented friend, Courtney (of Pizzazzerie) for the release of her first book, Push-up Pops! This is one of the cutest books I've seen, and thanks to her I now have a new way to love and crave cake!
- Rosie Alyea