As an adult, eating samartini is a bit of a religious experience for me. As a child, I was clearly a heathen, looking down my nose at these cookies. In defence of my childhood taste buds, samartini can be a bit of an acquired taste. The years have made me wise and now, come the cooler breezes of September, the samartini lust begins. By October, I’m pestering my mother on exactly when she’s planning on making them. Though in my family they are legendary, my mother, oddly, is not a fan. Ma says she makes them because it’s Christmas and you can’t have Christmas without samartini. (My mother has since softened her stance and will now make them at any time of year. Hear the angels sing!)
I always thought of this as my mother’s version of mincement but these cookies are so much more and so much better. The closest comparison would be a fig newton. But with booze. And coffee . And nuts. And the most important ingredient of all – mosto cotto or as my mother says in her dialect, “mustu.” The filling will still taste good without it. But without it, there’s a depth that’s just missing. Mosto cotto goes by a few names depending on where you’re from in Italy. Many call it vin cotto. When I suggested to my mother that I could make my own by boiling down some wine with spices, she scoffed. Mosto cotto, she tells me, is made from wine grapes with a high sugar content. The wine grapes are crushed creating unfiltered grape juice often still containing seeds and skins. Then you filter it, and boil it down until it becomes a syrup.
Some recipes call for honey. It’ll taste good. But it’s just not mosto cotto.
My mother and my aunt have always made samartini. My aunt will say hers are simpler, made the way they were made in the 1950s small-town-by-the-sea Italy where they grew up, with a thinner, crisper crust. My mother will say hers are richer, with more booze, more coffee, more nuts and a sweeter dough, more like a soft cookie. For as long as they’ve made them, they’ve argued over whose recipe is better. Every time, the argument goes the same way and then devolves into barbs and then peals of laughter and finally, where it always ends, reminiscing over years gone and childhoods lived, a knowing look, a heavy sigh and a smile.
One thing my mother and my aunt do agree on is the shape. Always a crescent moon with little cutouts so you can see the fig filling.
My mother dresses them up with coloured sprinkles or with whole or half walnuts. I like the walnuts better.
Here’s your RTI:
- You can grind the figs by hand (but that’s a whole lot of work) or use a food processor (much easier and faster)
- Figs will burn so keep your eye on the mixture.
- Toasting the nuts ahead of time will give them more flavour.
- If you can’t find mosto cotto, or vin cotto at a store, taste the filling on its own, then take a small bit of into a bowl and add a bit of honey and/or orange marmalade and see if you like that combination better. If you do, add honey/orange marmalade to the whole batch of filling.
- This filling keeps for a long time in a cool place like a cantina or in the fridge. My ma would always splash some extra booze on top. She said it kept the filling from drying out. If it does dry up, you can add more espresso as well to loosen it up.
- If you don’t have or can’t find Bertolini (which is baking powder with vanilla added in), don’t worry. Regular baking powder will do.
- The half-moon shape is classic, and for some, might be too much cookie (Though really, is that even possible?).
- If you want to save time and don’t particularly care about the shape, simply roll out the dough into longer strips, wide enough to be rolled around the filling. Then lay the filling in one long line slightly to the right or left of centre and carefully bring the dough up and over the filling to seal the filling into the dough “log”. Then with a floured knife, cut the dough into one-inch (or longer if you like) pieces and place them on the cookie sheet, egg wash them up and pop them in the oven. Then you have a bite-sized cookie shaped more like a fig newton, but taller!
- Grinder or food processor
- Knife for cutting rind
- Espresso maker
- Shot glass
- Large pot to cook the filling on the stove
- Fluted pastry wheel cutter
- Cookie sheets
- Butter or starch for greasing and/or Parchment paper
- Little bowl to make the egg wash
- Pastry brush to brush on egg wash
- 1 lb figs (or you can have more figs than raisins if you like)
- 1-1.5 lbs raisins
- Zest of one orange
- Rind of one mandarin or clementine or tangerine, chopped very finely
- 2 cups espresso, sweetened with 1-2 tbsp of sugar*
- 1 tbsp cocoa, sweetened with 1 tbsp sugar**
- 1 shot Sambuca 0r 1-2 tsp of anisette extract, or skip this
- 1/4 cup mosto cotto or vin cotto or fig syrup or skip it if you can’t find it!
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- Walnut pieces***
*Ma says sweeten the espresso. I say the figs are sweet enough. You decide.
**Ma says sweeten the cocoa. I say no need. You decide.
***It depends on how many nuts you like so start with a cup and go from there. If you don’t like walnuts and prefer almonds, go with almonds or a mix of both. You could do hazelnuts as well. For added depth, if you’re using almonds or hazelnuts, roast them lightly ahead of time in the oven before chopping into smaller pieces for the filling.
- Use a food processor or grinder to grind the figs and raisins.
- Throw all the filling ingredients, except the walnuts, into a pot on the stove and mix it all together as it cooks on medium heat to heat through. You can use this right away but you can also let it sit (for weeks if you like). If it dries up, add more brewed espresso and/or Sambuca and/or fig syrup to loosen it up.
- Add the nuts and mix through.
- Take the filling off the heat and start making the dough. Or if you don’t want to make the dough now, put the filling aside in a cool place like the fridge or a cold cellar/cantina. It keeps for a long time.
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup milk
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 pkg Bertolini
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Flour (til you have workable dough), I start with 4 cups of flour. You want a dough that is not too sticky but you don’t want to add too much flour, or it will toughen
- Plus 1 more egg, beaten (for the egg wash)
- Coloured sprinkles (optional)
- Extra whole walnuts (optional)
- Grease your cookie sheet or lay down parchment paper.
- Beat the 4 eggs, sugar, milk, oil and vanilla in a bowl. You can do this by hand, with a hand mixer or stand mixer.
- Then add the Bertolini, baking powder and begin to add the flour. You will likely need about 5 cups…but start with 4 cups and go from there. You need a dough that is not too soft and not hard, but one you can easily roll out with a rolling pin or even use your hands to shape into rounds on the counter.
- Separate the dough into smaller pieces and start rolling them out into 5-inch or 6-inch rounds (13cm to 15cm). The size of the rounds depends on how big you’d like your crescent moon shapes.
- The dough is quite forgiving, so you can roll out it, gather up scraps and re-roll.
- Once you have your round of dough, lay about 1-2 tbsp of filling making sure you can pull dough up and over it (again, how much you use, depends on how big you want the cookie to be).
Then use your fluted pastry wheel to cut two little arcs, one above the other on the section of dough you’re about to pull up and over the filling. Now you’ve got little “windows” into the cookie.
- Once the dough is up and over the filling, press down to join the seams of dough and you will have your crescent moon shape. It’s like making a pierogi except pierogis don’t have holes.
- Track your fluted pastry wheel around the seams to make for a pretty fluted edge to the crescent moon.
- If you like sprinkles, trickle a few into the “windows” or if you prefer nuts, you can nestle a whole walnut or two into the “windows”
- Place on cookie sheet.
- Apply the egg wash (crack egg into bowl, beat with a fork until mixed well, brush onto cookies)
- Pop them in the oven.
- Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until they begin to get golden on top.
If the samartini aren’t reward enough, your kitchen will smell amazing after brewing coffee, heating figs and baking the dough.
I’m not going to lie. They’re a bit of work so I tend make a big batch. Then once they’ve cooled, wrap each in saran wrap and place them in a freezer bag or container in the freezer. They keep for a long time.
Absolutely perfect as a snack with coffee.