I’m half Maltese. Well actually post the Brexit vote (DON’T get me started on THAT), I’ve taken Maltese citizenship alongside my British status. So this Easter, my first official one as a Maltese citizen, I thought I’d better tow the line and make some traditional Maltese Easter treats.
They are called Figolla (or Figolli if you’re talking about more than one) and are a sweet biscuit, usually shaped into some kind of fertility symbol, filled with almond paste, highly decorated and finished off with a small chocolate egg (another fertility symbol) in the centre.
My mother tells us that when she was a young girl in Malta, all of the children would go out into the street in her village with their figolla on a tray and show them off to see who had the best one. Different times!
Figolli can be bought from pastry shops in Malta, but many families enjoy making them and decorating them together.
Shapes vary. My mother always had a mermaid when she was young. Fish shapes were always popular too although it seems that anything goes these days. I don’t buy cutters (although you can buy them online). I draw simple shapes on a piece of card (usually a dissected cereal box) and just use that as a template.
They can be a bit faffy to make but are worth the effort. This recipe is quite straightforward and and adaptation of one of the simpler versions I’ve found. You make the figolla in four stages:
- Make the pastry
- Make the almond paste filling
- Build and cook them
- Decorate them
Now to me, someone who is very into instant gratification, this is a long process – but on a once yearly basis, I’m prepared to put the effort in :-). This recipe makes 2 figolli of around 20 cm in length.
For the pastry:
400g plain flour
150g butter (the Maltese would most likely use margarine)
Grated zest of one small lemon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
a few drops of orange blossom essence (or almond will do if you can’t find this)
For the almond paste filling:
200g ground almonds
a few drops of almond essence
2 beaten egg whites
Melted Milk Chocolate
Hundreds and Thousands
Small foil covered eggs (the egg-hunt type)
Make the pastry:
1. Add the flour and butter together in a food mixed and pulse until you are left with fine breadcrumbs.
2. Add the sugar and the grated lemon zest and mix.
3. Add the lightly beaten eggs and the vanilla essence to the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture begins to bind (it won’t bind completely).
4. Tip onto a floured work surface and bring together. You’ll find it will look like breadcrumbs but will easily come together. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge whilst you make the filling and have a cuppa.
Make the filling:
5. Mix the almonds and sugar together in a bowl.
6. Add the egg whites and mix well along with the almond essence. You should end up with a spreadable paste. If you don’t then just add small amounts of water until you do.
7. Grease and flour as many baking sheets as required and heat your oven to 180/Gas 5
Build and cook them:
8. Cut your block of pastry in half and roll one half out so that it is large enough to cut two of your 20cm cutter or card templates out of. The pastry may become quite sticky so keep plenty of flour to hand. Cut out two pastry shapes using your template.
9. Transfer one pastry shape to a baking sheet and spread a layer of almond paste filling on it. Spread the filling generously but leave a border of about 1cm around the edges. Brush the edge with water and place a matching shape on the top, sealing the edges really well as you go along to avoid leakages. Repeat with the other half of your pastry.
10. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes, you may need longer, but the pastry should be a light golden brown (not dark golden like a biscuit). Remove from the oven, let stand for a few minutes and carefully transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.
11. When completely cold, begin to decorate. You can do whatever you like. I prefer melted chocolate, whilst Mr Vegi prefers icing sugar. If this wasn’t all traditional enough, the truly traditional element, I’m told, is the foil covered egg positioned in the centre – THE symbol of fertility. You may choose to leave it off. 🙂
In an airtight container, these should easily keep for a week or more. They a sugar rush for sure, but quite tasty. To me, it wouldn’t be Easter without them.