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Malta: Figolli (Marzipan-Filled Easter Pastries)

Since the Maltese language has been strongly influenced by Latin and Italian, it's possible that the word figolla (plural, figolli) is a worn-down version of the word figura, a form, shape, or image. Whatever the case, around Easter time in Malta, figolli are in every baker's window, and are also sold in shops and by various organizations to benefit charities.

Traditionally they were a post-Lenten treat intended mostly for children. The oldest shapes were of men and women (something like gingerbread men and women), and also fish and baskets -- possibly a reference to ancient symbols of fertility. But later other shapes started turning up -- ducks and bunnies, cars and butterflies. Whatever the shape, figolli are brightly decorated in icing and chocolate, and the biggest ones often incorporate a whole Easter egg (real or chocolate) wrapped in foil or paper.

Click on "read more" for the recipe.

For the pastry:

  • 400 grams butter or margarine
  • 800 grams flour
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • Water to mix

For the filling:

  • 400 grams sugar
  • 400 grams almonds
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom eater
  • 3 egg whites

Sieve flour into a large bowl or food processor. Rub in the margarine or butter to a cornmeal consistency (or pulse until it gets there). Add the sugar and lemon rind and mix or pulse again. Mix in the egg yolks and enough water to make a stiff dough.

Prepare the filling by grinding together the sugar and almonds in a spice grinder or blender (or the food processor, though a grinder seems to work best). Add the orange-blossom water and fold the beaten egg whites into this mixture.

Dust a work surface with flour and roll the pastry out. Use cookie cutters or custom-created cardboard shapes to cut out two identical shapes for each figolla.

Spread a thick (about 1 centimeter) layer of the almond filling onto half the pastry shapes you've made, leaving about 1 cm of space around the edges of each one. Then cover each with its corresponding half. Push the edges together slightly and bake for 1/2 hour in a moderate oven (325-350F, 175C).

Allow to cool and decorate with chocolate and / or icing, making fanciful designs around the edges, and filling in faces and other features as desired.

(This is one of a sequence of Maltese recipes posted to celebrate Malta's annual Freedom Day. You might like to check the other recipes out as well.)