Little Bird Cookies of Abruzzo: Celli d’Abruzzo
These bird-shaped cookies are a traditional Abruzzo sweet made with “scrucchiata,” a sugar-free grape jam typical of the region made with the area’s famed Montepuliano d’Abruzzo grapes. The jam is sold in Italian specialty stores and online, but the cookies are also delicious made with store-bough prune or sour cherry jam. Or, if you like, you can make your own scrucchiata, with Concord grapes.
The cookies are popular in Abruzzo at Christmas and Easter time and especially during the Feast Day of Saint Anthony the Abbot who is a patron saint of many things including domesticate animals. In Abruzzo they believe that images of chirping birds are a good omen for future harvests and birds have become a region-wide symbol of good luck so in Abruzzo you find many ceramic bird whistles and sculptures as well as bird depictions in kitchens, especially on the area’s characteristic copper basins. If you are feeling artistically challenged not to worry. These cookies are delicious in simpler shapes too!
Recipe courtesy of cookbook author and cooking instructor Francesca D’Orazio Buonerba whose blog and video posts on Facebook and Instagram instruct on how to not only make traditional Italian meals, but how to set the table with unique Italian flare.
Makes about 30 cookies
For the dough:
Place the flour on the work surface. Make a hollow in the center, pour into the hallow the oil, wine, sugar and salt. Mix the ingredients, slowly incorporating in the flour, and kneed to form a soft and elastic dough. Leave to rest in a bowl for one hour.
For the filling:
Heat the jam in a saucepan, add in the almonds, sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, rum and orange zest. Simmer on very low heat for about 12 minutes. Let cool.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 340 F. Roll out the dough into a very thin sheet. Cut the dough into 6-inch squares. At the center of each place a spoonful of filling diagonally. Fold at an angle inward, wrapping the filling, roll up and bring the two tips of the base of the triangle upwards. One will be the head, the other the bird's tail. Press the back of the knife into the tail to form “feathers” and using scissors gently made snips along in the center of the bird. Or, if you prefer, just fold over the triangles and bake the cookies in the shape of half-moons or even tortelli. Put the cookies onto the lined cookie sheets and bake for about 20 minutes until light golden.
* To make enough scrucchiata for this recipe, you’ll need about 2 pounds of Concord grapes. Remove the pits, mash slightly, and slow cook for two hours without adding any water or sugar. Once cool, pass the mixture through a food mill or mash with a potato masher. If the jam is too runny, put it back on the stove and cook for a bit longer, over very low heat, until thick and dense.