Thought to be derived from the Spanish tradition of empanadas, these half-moon-shaped Sicilian cookies found in Modica are filled with a surprising but delicious combination of the robust chocolate from the region, spices, and ground beef. Though the filling and dough are simple, finely chopped candied fruit, cinnamon and nutmeg, and sugar help the finished cookies skew mostly sweet and only lightly savory—ideal for enjoying with a cup of coffee. A small window etched into the top of each shows off the unusual filling, though tasting them is the only way to fully comprehend their unique flavor and texture.
This version of the recipe from Caffè dell’Arte in Modica was translated by Coral Sisk.
What You Will Need
- Food Processor
- Plastic Wrap
- Medium Skillet
- Large Bowl
- 2 Large Baking Sheets
- Parchment Paper
- Rolling Pin
- 2-inch Round Cutter
- Paring Knife
- Small Bowl
For the dough:
- 2 1⁄2 cups Italian soft grain ’00’ flour (13 ½ oz.), plus more for dusting
- 1⁄3 cup sugar
- 8 tbsp. (1 stick or 4 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 9 large egg yolks
For the filling:
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 4 1⁄2 oz. fatty ground beef
- 1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
- 4 1⁄2 oz. whole almonds (¾ cup)
- 2 oz. Sicilian candied fruit (orange, squash, and pear), finely chopped (½ cup total)
- 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 oz. sugar (3 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp.)
- 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1⁄2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 large egg
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
- In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, sugar, and butter and pulse until the butter has broken down into large pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of ice-cold water and pulse until the dough naturally pulls away from the sides, pulsing in more water, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to make a cohesive mass.
- Transfer the dough onto a clean work surface and press it into a disk about 6 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the beef and salt and cook, stirring frequently. until the meat is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and any grease to a heat resistant bowl and set aside to cool completely.
- In the clean bowl of the food processor, add the almonds and pulse until they are coarsely chopped. Add the chopped candied fruit, chocolate, and sugar, then continue pulsing until the ingredients have the consistency of a coarse, moist meal, about 30 seconds. Add the cooled beef, cinnamon, and nutmeg and pulse 2–3 times to combine. Transfer the filling into a large bowl and stir in the egg whites to combine. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough and lightly flour a third large sheet of parchment paper and a rolling pin. Place the dough on the floured parchment and roll it out to an even sheet ⅛ of an inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut the dough into 32 circles. Add 1½ teaspoons of the filling to the top third of each circle. Use a paring knife to cut a 1-inch slit horizontally into the center of the bottom third of each circle. Fold each circle in half, pressing the air out with your thumbs and evening the filling out within each cookie (it is fine if some of the filling peeks out through the cut in the dough). Crimp the edges with a fork or your fingers to seal them, then transfer the cookies, cut side up, to the lined baking sheets, taking care to leave at least 1½ inches between each cookie.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1 tablespoon cold water. Brush the top and sides of each cookie with the egg wash, then bake, rotating the baking sheets once halfway through, until the edges of the cookies are a light golden brown, 15–17 minutes,.
- Remove the baking sheets and let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Once fully cooled, dust with powdered sugar and serve.