There is a bar I pop into now and then that always has a pastry in the counter that I almost never say no to — they call it simply a fig and walnut pastry (treccia con fichi e noci) and while it’s different to this (that one has something like a frangipane type base and a deep caramel flavour), it definitely inspired the braided shape of this pastry. The thing is that making pastries at home means you get to eat them while they are fresh out of the oven, shatteringly crisp, the filling oozing and warm.
This filling is essentially the filling of a Sicilian cookie that I love called buccellati (which I wrote about here for my newsletter, with a Christmas cookie tin idea). It tastes like Christmas as it’s heavy with dried fruit, candied fruit and nuts of all kinds, plus it is scented with orange zest and cinnamon — so festive!
What I love about this too is that the filling can and should be prepared in advance to let the flavours develop nicely, which makes this a really perfect one for Christmas morning as you can prepare the filling in the days before you need it. Then, the morning you want to bake this, just pull it out of the fridge, arrange it on a store bought sheet of puff pastry (why not?) and bake. You’ll have these crisp, flaky, warm fig pastries to munch on while opening presents or perhaps you know someone who would love these and you can share some (the perfect gift?) — I already know that these will be an annual tradition for me!
For some other ideas for Italian treats for Christmas, try one of these:
- Maritozzi always have a special place in my heart.
- My ultimate Yule Log (tronco di natale) with candied walnuts and sugared rosemary decorations.
- Australians who have cherry season might like to try these fresh cherry crostatine with my favourite shortcrust pastry.
- Although these might be a bit strong for breakfast, panforte is probably one of the best ways to end a Christmas meal (or as a pick me up in the late afternoon!) — there is a chestnut version too.
- If you love pandoro, try turning it into a wonderful no-bake dessert with homemade mascarpone and fruit.
Braided fig and nut pastries
Treccia con fichi e noci
Use any of your favourite nuts here — almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts… and the same goes for the jam component, though I think the best flavours would be fig, apple, apricot or marmalade. I veer slightly from the original buccellati filling here a little bit by adding brown sugar instead of honey and an egg to hold things together. I took out the raisins and added more nuts. This recipe is enough for two puff pastry sheets that will make 8 serves each (or 4 larger ones), which means you have a second one to give away as a gift to someone special.
Makes 16 pieces
150 grams dried figs, halved
80 grams walnuts (or your favourite nuts), chopped roughly
2 tablespoons brown sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
75 grams (1/4 cup) fig jam
1 unwaxed, organic orange or lemon, zested
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs (save one for the egg wash)
2 sheets store-bought puff pastry
Soak the figs 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 and add the brown sugar, jam, citrus zest, cinnamon and an egg and mix until well combined. 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. You can even leave it for 3 or 4 days if you need to get things out of the way.
When ready to bake, heat oven to 200C (390F).
Unroll a puff pastry sheet and place the filling in the centre, so that it is about 3-4 inches (7-10cm) wide or taking up about a third of the pastry sheet. On either side of the filling, cut strips at an angle (refer to the photo). Now to “braid” it, simply alternate strips in a criss-cross fashion over the top of the filling from each side and at an angle — it’s not a true braid but it looks like one! Repeat with the second pastry.
With the saved egg, beat it in the bowl and brush over the top of the braids, then sprinkle some brown sugar over the top.
Bake until the top is golden brown, about 20 minutes. If the bottom looks quite pale, give it an extra 5 minutes on the bottom shelf of your oven for a total of 25 minutes.
Remove and let cool slightly so you can handle the pastries, then slice into 8 smaller slices or 4 larger ones. Serve immediately if you can (if serving these later, you can always warm them up again in the oven until crisp).