The Maltese Figolli is a traditional Easter cookie filled with the flavors of almond, lemon, vanilla and butter. This cookie holds a special place in my heart because it is connected with my grandfather and my culture.
When I was a little girl, we would go to my grandparents house for Easter on Long Island, New York. While the Easter Bunny gave us Easter baskets filled with the usual American Easter treats, it was my Nannu’s figolli that I looked forward to receiving .
My Nannu, Anthony Mallia (nannu meaning grandfather in Maltese), was the yearly figolli maker. He would do it in hiding. None of us would know which shape we would receive. We would not be allowed in the downstairs living room where the figollies were laid out across the pool table. Finally, after all the family had arrived, we would be ushered down stairs and he would tell us which figolli was ours.
Here I am obviously very happy about the figolli that was mine! My Nannu is the guy in the middle. My dad is on the left.
I remember walking around the table looking at each figolli cookie, picking out my favorite and hoping that it was mine. Nannu caught on after a few years that my favorite shapes were the basket and the heart, and he always had one for me. The other shapes I remember were guitars, cars, and fish.
Each was decorated in its own way and they held one chocolate egg in the center, as is tradition.
As I grew up, I was able to watch my Nannu make the figolli for the younger children in the family. His hands were as thick as a baseball mitts as they would gently hold a thin paint brush and stroke the color onto the icing. He took pride in them as he did with everything he did and everyone he loved. My Nannu Tony has since passed, and I took up the tradition of making the figolli for my family. I think he’d be impressed, but also he’d think his were better. He was a guy who like to bust some chops.
To make these you will be making the cookie dough, the filling and the icing. It really is simple. I will show you the steps and ingredients here. There is also a printable text only version at the end of the post.
You will also need your cookie cutter or a parchment paper template that you can draw and cut out. I can only find these cutters in Malta. I now have a good supply of shapes, but the first year I didn’t have any. I simply cut out a pattern on parchment paper and used that as my template. I stuck to the easy shapes that year like eggs.
The Dough is a simple recipe.
7 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3 3/4 sticks of butter
4 egg yolks (set aside whites for filling)
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp almond extract
Combine all ingredients. Dry first, followed by wet. The mixture will form into a ball.
Roll out dough. Each cookie needs two sides, the top and the bottom. So make sure you cut out two of every shape. The thickness should look like this. You can choose to roll out dough onto parchment paper to make transfer onto cookie sheets easier.
Which leads us to the filling.
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup of granulated sugar
14 oz ground almonds
4 egg whites (that you reserved earlier)
1/2 tsp almond extract
Using a mixer. Mix it to a paste.
Now using a spoon place the filling on top of the bottom layer of your dough. Leave a good amount of edge clear of filling for easy closure. The thicker shapes like the egg, and fish are easy to fill and use more filling. Shapes such as the cross or basket will use less filling.
Wet your finger with water and smooth it over the edge. Lay your top layer on top and press the edges together.
Once it is sealed, it is ready for baking.
Bake the cookie at 350. Bake until golden. About 30 minutes.
With the left over dough and filling, I make an extra, just as a rectangle, to nibble on as I ice the rest. This is what it looks like when you slice into it. I cut it into the shape of biscotti. It’s great with a cup of tea or coffee.
Now it is time to ice them.
First you want to make your piping icing. This is for your outlines. If you want to get fancy and make flowers or basket weaving, you will also use this icing.
3 TBS meringue powder
4 cups powdered sugar
5 TBS warm water (adjust the water to get the desired consistency)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
Play around with flavors here. You can use lemon, or vanilla instead of, or in addition to, the almond extract. Adjust extract measurements.
Pipe your cookies.
Now you will make the rest of the decorative icing. It’s the same icing as before. You just add more water or squeezed fresh lemon juice. Also, at this point, separate your icing into the amount of different colors you will be using, and tint your icing to those colors. I use separate ramekins for each color however, I just came across a picture I had taken of my Nannu’s baseball mitt hands icing the figolli. No wonder that image stands out to me. You can see that he used a muffin tin to separate his colors. Great tip!
I like to use a spoon and toothpick to place and maneuver my icing where I want it. I did have some drips. Every year there are less and less so woo hoo improvement!
That is it! You are done. It really is simple to do. Make a cookie, make a filling, make it pretty. Add a chocolate egg (which aesthetically doesn’t make sense but well, it’s tradition.)