Dicembre Dolce: Celli Ripieni {Jam-Filled Cookies from Abruzzo}

celli plated

Jam- and nut-filled cookies are a traditional Christmas treat in Abruzzo and other parts of Italy. In our house, these cookies took the form of my mother’s calcionelli ~ fried half-moon pillows of sweet dough filled with ground nuts and honey and flavored with citrus zest. She fried them on Christmas morning and we ate them, still warm, as we opened our gifts. I wasn’t especially fond of them when I was little, but eventually my palate got a clue and now it’s not Christmas without them.

gabriellascalcionelli

Gabriella’s calcionelli

As with so many recipes in Italy, calcionelli come in countless variations and are known by many names–“calzoncelli” (meaning little socks), “calcionetti,” and “canciuni” among them. Some are filled with a chocolate-chickpea puree, others with chestnut puree. Last summer while I was in Abruzzo, I learned how to make a wonderful baked version called “celli ripieni.” The cookies are filled with homemade grape jam, cocoa and nuts. The pastry enclosing the filling is made with olive oil, wine and eggs; it’s tender and delicate and all but melts in your mouth when you take a bite.

Here I must give a hat tip to my friend Fabrizio Lucci, who introduced me to celli ripieni. Fabrizio gives culinary tours of Abruzzo. I’ve written previously about the day that my family and I spent with him last summer, touring the coast and hills around Vasto. At the end of that memorable day, Fabrizio’s mother gave us an impromptu lesson on how to make celli ripieni.

The name, Fabrizio says, is short for ‘uccelli ripieni,’ which means ‘stuffed birds.’ Traditionally, the cookies were shaped to resemble passerotti (sparrows), and you will still find these whimsical bird-shaped cookies in pasticcerie in Abruzzo:

uccelli

It’s hard to truly replicate celli ripieni unless you have something called scrucchjata–a rustic jam that is made during the fall harvest from the pulp and skins of Montepulciano grapes. It is thick in texture and deep, jewel-like purple in color and is about as far from supermarket grape jam as you can get. If you come across a jar in a well-stocked Italian deli, grab it. Otherwise, you can use a good quality, artisan grape jam or even good blackberry jam.

scrucchjate

The other thing you should keep in mind when making celli ripieni is that the dough is soft and oily and, frankly, not the easiest dough to work with. I hope this won’t deter you because, as with any recipe with a degree of difficulty, the more you do it the better you get. When you’re rolling out the dough to make your celli, you will be tempted to add more flour to the dough or to your work surface. A tiny bit is OK, but try to hold off because too much flour will toughen the dough and your cookies will lose that melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. Here’s a collage I put together of the process:

celli collage You can see that my celli are less than perfect ~ the filling oozed out of more than a few of them. But of course that is what powdered sugar is for, isn’t it?

What’s your favorite cookie to bake during the holidays? Please share in the comments section below.

NOTE: Speaking of my friend Fabrizio, I just learned he has a fun contest happening on his website, Italia Sweet Italia, open to people of Abruzzese heritage. He’s compiling a cookbook of Abruzzo family recipes and is asking people to submit their favorite recipes for a chance to win three-day cookery tour in Abruzzo, plus an assortment of other prizes. Hop on over to Italia Sweet Italia to learn more.

 

Makes 30 cookies

Celli Ripieni {Jam-Filled Cookies}

These old-fashioned jam-filled pockets that are a specialty of Italy’s Abruzzo region. This recipe was given to me by Fabrizio Lucci, who hosts tours of the beautiful area around the coastal city of Vasto. It’s a specialty of his mother, Anna Maria, and I have her to thank for showing me how to mix and roll out the delicate dough and shape the cookies into fat rings. The traditional filling to use for these cookies is a rustic grape jam known as 'scrucchjata,' made from Montepulciano grapes. It's not easy to find outside of Abruzzo, so just substitute a good quality artisan grape or blackberry jam ~ or your own homemade.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted almonds
  • 1 cup good-quality thick grape jam or blackberry jam
  • 1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups ‘00’ flour, plus more for dusting the work surface

Instructions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 11- by 17-inch rimmed baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine the almonds, jam, grated chocolate, cocoa powder and espresso powder. Fold everything together gently but thoroughly. Set aside.

Make the dough: In a large bowl, stir together the olive oil and wine. Sprinkle in the flour a little at a time, stirring constantly with a fork to incorporate the ingredients. Continue to add flour and stir until you have a dough that is shiny, soft and sticky, and just firm enough to handle. Turn the dough out onto a lightly dusted work surface and knead until smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.

Fill and shape the cookies: Pinch off a small piece of dough—about the size of a walnut—and pat it into a small disk. Using a rolling pin, gently roll out the disk into an oval about 5 in/13 cm long and 3 in/9 cm wide. The dough will be sticky, but avoid adding too much additional flour, as it will toughen the dough. The best technique is to be confident and use a light touch so as not to tear the dough (if you tear the dough, press it back together; you don’t want the filling to leak out).

Spread a thin layer of filling—less than a teaspoon—along the center of the piece of dough, leaving a border all around. Fold the long top edge over the filling to meet the bottom edge, and press gently but firmly to seal and to remove any air bubbles. With a fluted pastry wheel, trim excess dough around the perimeter, leaving a thin border. Bring the two ends of the dough together to form a ring. Press the ends to seal. Set the cookie on a prepared baking sheet. Continue to fill and shape the cookies and arrange them on the baking sheets, 15 per sheet. You should end up with 30 cookies. (You may not use all the filling; store any that is leftover in the refrigerator.)

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are pale golden and just set. Transfer the baking sheets to racks to cool for 5 minutes. Use an angled metal spatula to gently transfer the cookies from the baking sheets to the cooling racks. To serve arrange the cookies on a decorative platter and sprinkle generously with confectioners’ sugar. Serve the cookies slightly warm or at room temperature.

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34 Responses to Dicembre Dolce: Celli Ripieni {Jam-Filled Cookies from Abruzzo}

  1. Fabrizio - Italia Sweet Italia December 13, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    Grazie mille Domenica! Very nice article and great suggestions on how to make celli ripieni or Tarllucci olio e vino! Enjoy them!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 14, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      Grazie a te, Fabrizio. E’ una ricetta speciale. Buone feste a te e la tua famiglia.

  2. Helen Free December 13, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    That jam! Must get a bigger suitcase for food shopping in Abruzzo. Intriguing ingredients. So happy you shared this precious sweet.

    • Domenica Marchetti December 14, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      I didn’t bring back nearly enough last year either, Helen. Next time for sure.

  3. Laura (Tutti Dolci) December 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Beautiful cookies, I love the jam filling!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 14, 2013 at 10:06 am #

      Laura, I’d love to know what you’re baking for Christmas. I’ll have to hop on over to your site to see. Cheers, D

  4. bettyannq December 14, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    Oh I love anything filled with jam, these cookies included. Thanks for sharing this recipe. I will bookmark and make soon. They are just so beautiful. I have several favorites I bake during Christmas : Food for the Gods (date bars), triple chocolate crinkles with brandy, and those Pan de San Nicolas heritage cookies which I featured on American Roots. But I also love to receive cookies and enjoy whatever my neighbors surprise me with every season. Happy Holidays, Domenica!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 15, 2013 at 8:08 am #

      Betty Ann, I can’t believe it’s already been a year since you posted you Pan de San Nicolas on American Food Roots. I’ve been wanting to make them ever since. I had better get to it. Merry Christmas!

  5. Chiara December 14, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    non conoscevo questi dolci tradizionali, grazie per aver condiviso Domenica !

  6. sippitysup December 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    I do have some of this summer blackberry jam I made in Seattle laying around. I think I’ll test my skills with celli ripieni. I like a challenge. GREG

    • Domenica Marchetti December 15, 2013 at 8:11 am #

      Greg ~ I really think blackberry jam would be a good substitute for the grape in these cookies, especially homemade. The dough is fussy, so just keep that in mind and don’t over flour. They’re worth it, though; they’re so quintessentially Italian. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Ralph December 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    Very nice cookies. And I bet they even taste better than they look. We have a very long standing tradition in Germany to make Christmas cookies. My favorites are, among others, Zimtsterne ( cinnamon stars ) and Elisen Lebkuchen ( German style Gingerbread )

    • Domenica Marchetti December 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      Ralph, I’ve always wanted to try German style gingerbread but I don’t have a recipe. Do you have one you’d be willing to share? Also, cinnamon stars sounds just perfect for Christmas. When I was little, we had a German neighbor who used to make hazelnut crescents with finely ground nuts. They were coated in powdered sugar and just melted in your mouth. My mom has made them for many years. They are still a favorite.

  8. Jamie December 15, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    One of the many things I miss about living in Italy is the pastry. So much homier and more simple than French pastry but so much better in my opinion because it is homier. I adore these kinds of cookies and anything filled with artisan jam is good in my books! I must try these… the whole family will love them. And I also think that cookies with jam oozing out the the sides IS perfect!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      Thanks my friend. They really are good. The dough is a little finicky but well worth the handling.

  9. elisa December 15, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Domenica, last year I had the bright idea to make the filling for the “celli” with pistachio pesto, I added honey to the paste to make it less savory. This past Saturday I made your pistachio pasta using this pesto (I was a little lazy at the thought of skinning the pistachios). I use this company for the Bronte pistachios. Buon Natale e Buon Anno a te e alla tua famiglia!!!

    http://www.capriflavors.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=92&products_id=2646

    • Domenica Marchetti December 15, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

      Thank you for the link, Elisa. I like your idea of using pistachios in the filling. There are so many variations, it’s impossible to tire of these cookies. Thanks for the link e buone feste anche a te!

  10. ciaochowlinda December 15, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    Domenica – I too, ate these cookies for the first time when I was with Fabrizio, but I haven’t yet made them. I’ve never seen that scrucchjata but will be on the lookout for it. I’m still hoping to make calzoncelli (as my mother-in-law called them) using her recipe of chickpea and chocolate filling. But I would have to say my favorite Christmas cookie is the Italian “brownie” as my mom called it – not a brownie at all, but a delicious spicy and chocolate-y cookie that includes black pepper among its ingredients. The recipe is on my blog as “Italian Christmas brownies.”

  11. Adri December 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    It’s time to break out the Pernigotti! These look wonderful, and you already know how I feel about your mom’s Calcionelli. They are now a family fave. Looking at the recipe, I can believe that the dough is “particular”, as my mom used to say. With 1 1/2 cups of liquid (and 2/3 of that liquid being olive oil), to 2 1/2 -3 cups of 00 flour, it might be a bit challenging. Does letting it rest, giving the flour a bit of time to fully absorb the liquid make any difference in terms of ease of working with the dough? Or is that something you would recommend against? I have to try these. I am going to poke around our shops here in LA and see what I come up with in the jam department. Thanks for sharing this recipe. You are the next best thing to “being there.”

    • Domenica Marchetti December 17, 2013 at 10:39 am #

      Pernigotti ~ yes! And also the soft torrone from Sorelle Nurzia (from Abruzzo). Love it. Your assessment of the dough is spot on ~ large quantity of olive oil. I wouldn’t believe it could work if I hadn’t seen Fabrizio’s mother and aunt mixing it up themselves last summer. I did not let my dough rest, but you might want to try it as an experiment. Or let some of it rest and compare. That’s what I’ll do the next time I make them. Thanks for your insights. Buone feste!

  12. JoAnn Cola December 16, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    These look so good, I’m going to try them for Christmas!

    • Domenica Marchetti December 17, 2013 at 10:40 am #

      Let me know how it goes JoAnn. Don’t let the dough intimidate you. The more you work with it the easier it will get. Thanks for reading and Buon Natale.

  13. Frank Fariello December 18, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    I haven’t come across these before. They look incredible! And I don’t even have much of sweet tooth…

    • Domenica Marchetti December 20, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

      Frank, you will like these. The dough has no sugar, and the filling is sweet, but not too sweet. Buon Natale!

  14. Rosemary November 26, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Hello Domenica looking for cookies to do at xmas with my italian family from marriage and half italian by birth, with other mixes i came across yours they look lovely will try them, I also got a cookie dough its to die for so if I can get this ones will try mine I live in Australia so will hunt for a good jam. Happy christmas to you and yours

    Cheers
    Rosie Selvaggi

    • Domenica Marchetti November 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

      Thank you for writing Rosemary. I’m glad you found this recipe. The dough is a bit finicky because of all the olive oil. But the cookies are really delicious and delicate. Good luck and happy Christmas to you, too!

  15. Liza February 19, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    Is it possible to omit the nuts in the filling? Due to a nut allergy

    • Domenica Marchetti February 19, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

      Hi Liza, yes you can omit the nuts. They add a little body and texture but the recipe should work without them, especially if the jam is nice and thick.

  16. Liza February 20, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    Ok thank you very much…my mom is from Abruzzo and she use to make these cookies all the time…unfortunately she just passed away before Christmas and she has some jars of jam we brought home from her home town…so I would like to make some but my daughter has a nut allergy so now that I couldn’t ask I just neede to know if I could omit them…thanks for your help….they are really good cookies…our whole family loves them

  17. Liza February 20, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

    Oops sorry I meant now that I can’t ask my mom…I needed to know lol

  18. Francesca m shane April 15, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

    What is oo flour?

    • Domenica Marchetti April 16, 2016 at 5:36 pm #

      Hi Francesca, good question ~ I probably should have specified in a note. “00” refers to the grind of the flour. The double zero means the flour is very finely ground, which makes it especially suited to pasta and pastries. It yields a finer texture crumb in baked goods and a silkier texture in pasta. However, if all-purpose flour is all you have on hand, I am sure it will work in this recipe.

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