The Buccellato is among the Christmas sweets par excellence of Sicilian tradition. A mouth-watering short-crust pastry dough with a filling of dried figs, chocolate, and dried fruit, this classic southern holiday treat has a history as long as the various visitors and rulers of the Mediterranean island itself.
The name, pronounced bu-chel-lato, is derived from the Latin word buccellatum referring to a particular type of ring-shaped bread that was served to the Roman public during games, festivals, and even gladiator fights. Later, in the Middle Ages, a community of migrants from the area of Lucca settled in Palermo, bringing with them a type of winter-time sweet filled with raisins. As the recipe evolved, locals added other typical ingredients such as pumpkin, almonds, and dried figs, which had been introduced to the area during Arab rule around the years 831-1061.
The Buccellato remains a steady part of Sicilian holiday traditions. Below, Chef Filippo La Mantia from Palermo shares his recipe for this scrumptious sweet.
“The dough is prepared with flour, sugar, butter, and a spoonful of Marsala,” he explains, “While, for the filling, dried Sicilian figs, raisins, walnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin, orange peel, sugar and dark chocolate are used. The sweet mixture is placed in the rolled-out dough, to form a ring-shaped like a donut. In order to reveal the inner part of the dough, the short pastry is pinched so as to create a sort of crenellation. Finally, to make it shinier, the Buccellato is covered with a few spoons of warmed honey.”
Ingredients for 4 people
For the shortcrust pastry:
Durum wheat flour: 500 g
Butter: 300 g
Sugar: 200 g
Milk: to taste
Salt: to taste
For the filling:
Dried figs: 400 g
Walnut kernels: 150 g
Dark chocolate: 50 g
Peeled and toasted almonds: 200 g
Raisins: 150 g
Pistachios: 100 g
Pumpkin: 250 g
Cloves powder: 1 tablespoon
Cinnamon powder: 1 tablespoon
Orange: 1 peel
For the short-crust pastry, mix the flour with the butter, which should be left to soften at room temperature. Stir in the sugar, eggs, a pinch of salt, and enough milk to obtain a dough of medium consistency. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a sheet.
For the filling, soak the figs and, once they have plumped up, squeeze and cut them into chunks. Chop the walnut, almonds, and pistachios. Dice the pumpkin pulp and finely chop the orange peel. Once prepared, place all of these ingredients in a large bowl and add to them the beaten eggs, the chocolate reduced to flakes, a tablespoon of clove powder, and one of cinnamon. Mix well.
Spread the mixture with your hands on the rolled-out pastry and close it over on itself forming a ring. Use a fork to make holes in the surface of the pastry.
Place the cake on a tray lined with wax paper and bake in a preheated oven at 165 °C for 20 minutes. Once cooked, remove the Buccellato from the oven and cut it into slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.