Figolli - Maltese Almond Filled & Decorated Biscuits : An Egg Free Version
If you are looking for the traditional Maltese Easter pastry then you are probably at the wrong place, but I have it on authority that I’ve done a decent job considering that 3 weeks I didn’t even know what Figolli were! I know very little about Malta beyond where it is situated on the world map and a bit that I have learnt about from books, magazines and various television programmes. I know even less about Maltese cuisine so these Figolli I’ve made probably aren’t very authentic though I have gone with the spirit of this Maltese Easter pastry while giving it my own twists.
I almost didn’t make these almond filled and decorated biscuits (call them cookies if you want to) which would have been a pity considering how good they are. Nanette, who blogs at Gourmet Worrier has roots in Malta and lives in Australia. She thought of creating and celebrating a World Figolli Day to keep the tradition of making Figolli, and put out an announcement to this effect on Facebook.
I vaguely remember seeing something about it, but it wasn’t until Meeta brought it to my notice, that I paid it any attention. Now I’m all for doing whatever we can to preserve as much of tradition, culture and cuisine so we can pass them on to our children, and it is equally nice to discover new ones too.
Some pictures I saw of decorated pastries, Nanette’s post on making Figolli with her children last year and a few other links got me interested. I figured one couldn’t go very wrong with decorated buttery almond filled biscuits. Figolli are not very difficult to make, and I agree with Nanette that if you can work with flour, butter, eggs, sugar and almonds, you can make them too. I even left the eggs out!
Searching the net for information on this Maltese confection was rather like looking for the proverbial “needle in the haystack”. What I gathered was that Easter in Malta is incomplete without the very popular Figolli (singular – Figolla) and other typical Easter confections like Kwarezimal (Lent sweet cakes), Sfineg (Deep Fried Pastry Puffs) and Hobz ta’ l-Appostli (Bread οf Apostles)
Figolli are large and flat baked pastry biscuits that are cut out into shapes, sandwiched with an almond filling and then decorated with chocolate and/ or icing and small easter eggs. I believe that traditional shapes for Figolli were shapes like fish, lambs, Easter baskets, figures of a man and woman, etc., though other shapes like hearts, fish, butterflies, mermaids and bunnies are quite popular nowadays.
Traditionally Figolli were meant as Easter gifts for children after the Lenten period, but I’m sure a lot of adults must have also indulged themselves. It is thought that the name “Figolla” comes from a corruption of the Sicilian or Italian word “figura” or “figurella” which means figure.
In the olden days, it seems children would get up early on Easter morning in a procession beating drums in celebration, and I understand processions are still a part of the Easter celebrations. Even though Figolli are made a little ahead of Easter they are not eaten until Easter Sunday. It is still a tradition in many Maltese households for children to get their Figolli blessed by the local Parish priest after Easter morning mass.
I took a look at the few Figolli recipes on the net and this one from LadyLunchalot (interesting name for a blog!) appealed to me. I have tried to keep to the spirit and as close to the Figolli recipe as possible but decided to put my own twists to it.
The first thing I did was make my Figolli eggless, so the biscuit pastry, the filling and the icing are all made without egg. Figolli can be covered/ decorated with chocolate as well and I absolutely adore chocolate but for once, I thought I would dispense with the chocolate decorations.
My “chocolate tooth” however, refused to be beaten into submission and kicked in so I couldn’t resist adding a few semi-sweet chocolate chips while putting in the filling in each Figolla. After all, chocolate does pair wonderfully with orange since I was using the orange blossom water/ extract that Finla had sent me some time back.
We don’t celebrate Easter so no Easter eggs at home and they are yet to put an appearance in the shops. So I left out the Easter eggs on my Figolli though I did decorate a few with halved chocolate covered wafer balls and Cadbury Gems ((Indian equivalent of Smarties/ MMs), to keep with tradition.
I stuck to round and heart shaped Figolli as those were the only 2 cutters I had of the size I wanted (3" wide). Pointy shapes like stars , unless they are large, take more effort to fill, seal and decorate. Traditionally, Figolli are made as large biscuits, but I thought smaller single serve biscuits would be easier to distribute.
And when it came to decorating them, I sort of let my imagination go so you will find all sorts of non-Maltese influences including my favourite “mehendi/ henna” style patterns on them.
For the biscuit pastry:
For the almond filling:
- Almond meal is not available here, so I made my own. I store almonds in the freezer and find they’re easier to powder when processed straight from the freezer. Run 1 cup whole almonds with 4 tbsps granulated sugar (in two batches) till powdered fine. My almond powder had very small pieces and wasn’t very fine, which I thought was alright since this was to be used as filling.
- First, make the biscuit pastry. Put the sugar, flour and baking powder into a large bowl and whisk a couple of times to mix well. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and rub into the flour till it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the grated lemon rind and about 3/4 of the milk and lightly knead into a dough. Do not over handle the dough. Add as much of the remaining milk as necessary to bring the dough together. It might feel a little sticky.
- Shape the dough into a smooth ball, then flatten into a disc and wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour (or overnight if you choose).
- Now make the almond filling. Mix all the ingredients, except the chocolate chips, till well blended. You can refrigerate this filling overnight, in an airtight container.
- Now make the figolli. I made smaller figolli using 3” cookie cutters. If your biscuit pastry has been refrigerated overnight, it will be hard so let it soften at room temperature till it can be rolled out comfortably. Dust your work surface with flour, and roll the pastry out to 1/4” thickness. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters, cutting two same shapes for each figolla (sandwiched biscuit).
- Place some almond filling and spread it about 1/4", on each shape leaving space at the edges for sealing. Don’t put in too much filling or your figolli will bulge and make it difficult to decorate. It’s also easier to use shapes that are smooth rather than pointy, from the point of filling and sealing the shapes.
- Moisten the free edge with water (or milk) and place the matching pastry shape over the filling and lightly press/ pinch the edges together to seal. Place on an ungreased baking tray. Bake the figolli at 180C (350F) for about 20 minutes until golden brown.
- Let them cool completely on a rack. Then decorate with chocolate or icing as preferred. I used my Eggless Royal Icing to flood and ice my Figolli as well as Cadbury’s Gems (Indian equivalent of Smarties/ M&Ms) and chocolate covered wafer balls as decorations. This recipe gave me 10 Figolli (about 3” across).
We love these biscuits and they would make perfect gifts for family and friends even when its not Easter! They're shortbread-like and the citrusy flavour in the almond filling is lovely. Since my eggless icing is made with lemon juice, the tang of that also worked well with these biscuits. They are on the sweet side, but the suagr can be adjusted to suit one's taste.
The best part is that you can actually make these biscuits at one go or over a couple of days. I made the biscuit dough and the almond filling on one day and baked them the next day. I did the icing/ decorating the third day.
And despite using milk to make my filling, I found these biscuts kept in airtight containers for about 5 days without refrigeration even in the hot and humid tropical climate I live in.
The World Figolli Day celebrations are open from the 18th to the 23rd of April, 2011, so if you think this is your cup of tea, do join us and the fun.