Sunshine Cookies – A Sweet for All Seasons


decorated Figolli

Sunshine cookies, my new name for Figolli, with semi-traditional Figolli decoration. (It’s semi-traditional because there should be a foil-wrapped chocolate egg somewhere on each cookie. I compromised with (one) golden Jordan almond.


Why sunshine? Because they’re full of citrus zest – lemon, orange and lime – and they have a rich almond filling spiked with orange flower water. These are all things that say “Mediterranean” to me, plus Figolli are from Malta.

And why ignore their perfectly good name to create another one? Because “Figolli” is totally married to Easter and I think the cookies are way too good to make only once a year.


Back story:

seashells looking like cookies

When we got back from Florida, Bill put most of the seashells on a plate in the corner of the dining room. If you’re just passing through quickly, they look a very great deal like a plate of cookies.

We started out simply remarking the resemblance, without removing the plate. Then I, being the supply side, also noticed the cookie jar that’s usually stocked with odds and ends was needing refilling so frequently neither odds nor ends remained.

“Make some cookies” went on the do list and just coincidentally, Facebook  began reminding me that World Figolli Day was almost upon us.

This festival was initiated in 2011 on the The Gourmet Worrier *, published by Nanette Johnson, a person of Maltese descent who lives in Australia. She started WFD as a contest, giving as her ulterior reason:

“The idea behind World Figolli Day is that you turn off the television and get off the couch and head into the kitchen with your kids, nieces and nephews and have a bonding session with some dough and royal icing and hopefully pass on a few Maltese culinary traditions whilst your at it.”

Back in 2011, the contest was long over by the time I noticed it and the recipe looked considerably more involved than yer average cookie, so I had every reason to wish her luck and move on.

But the ingredient list looked so enticing and the cookies themselves so unusual I went ahead and made them and they were a big hit and then I didn’t make them again and then there were the seashells and it was almost Easter and World Figolli Day was rolling around once again and

They really are terrific, and if you use the variation I’m calling Sunshine Sandwich Cookies they’re not too much work to make. If you make them without the icing they’re no harder than any other roll and cut cookie – easier, maybe; the dough is very willing. As usual in our house, I like them better without icing anyway, but Bill does not agree.

Ms. Johnson’s recipe works fine, so I am simply reprinting it here, along with a few notes of my own and the Sunshine Sandwich instructions. If simply supplying a link weren’t insane from the reader-service point of view, I would have done that. Please do go and visit her (and tell her I sent you).

Nanette Johnson’s Figolli 

Adapted from The Food & Cookery of Malta (1999)

This quantity will give you enough dough to make approximately six average sized Figolli. [This is either a misprint or an average Figolla is the size of a pie. Pictures suggest they’re big, but not THAT big. If the cookies are about 3  inches across, you’ll get at least 50 of them, maybe more.]

I prefer to buy almonds and then grind them in the food processor as I like the almond filling to be chunkier in texture. If you prefer to use ground almond meal instead for the filling that is perfectly fine.

For the pastry:

800g organic plain flour, sifted

350g caster sugar [superfine sugar]

400g butter

4 organic egg yolks, lightly beaten

Grated rind of a lemon, lime and orange

For the filling:

600g icing sugar, sifted [confectioners sugar]

600g ground almonds

4 organic egg whites

Grated rind of 2 lemons

A couple of capfuls of Orange Blossom water [the cap on my little bottle holds only about 1/4 tsp. I used 2 tsp.]


1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4

2. Rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks, lemon zest and a little cold water. Knead it gently to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes. [I used a processor to rub the butter into the flour, but I had to do it in two batches and probably got a less-tender dough]

3. Meanwhile add the lemon zest, orange blossom water and sugar to the ground almonds. Add the egg whites and mix until well combined.

4. On a floured surface roll out your pastry to a 2-3mm thickness. Cut out your desired shapes ensuring that you have two of each figure as they will be sandwiched together with the almond filling.

5. Lay the figolla on a lined baking tray and spread with some of the almond filling. Lay the second shape over the top and press the edges together sealing it with a little water. Bake for 20 minutes until a pale golden colour. Allow to cool before decorating with icing sugar and various other bits of glam.


* As usual, I rolled the dough between sheets of waxed paper.

* The filling was quite stiff, difficult to spread, maybe because of the size of my eggs. I rolled it between sheets of waxed paper, then chilled it until it was firm enough to cut in more or less cookie-sized slabs. Didn’t try to cut it in cookie shapes.

* For the first few Figolli, I followed instructions, setting out cookie bases, covering them with filling – leaving a bit of margin for sealing – dabbing said margins with water, applying tops and pressing edges, but after the first three or four I switched to lightly dampening the entire base before applying the filling, and after that first batch I switched to

Sunshine Sandwich Cookies

Roll a sheet of dough, top with a sheet of filling and another sheet of dough. No need to moisten anything.

patched cookie dough

Also no need to worry if you have to patch a corner, the dough will meld smoothly in baking.

Roll very gently once, to bond the layers without spreading the dough.

Cut out cookie shapes, arranging the cutters carefully to get as many as possible. Transfer them to the baking sheet and proceed as directed.

Two small problems arise from this method. The first is that the cookies lack the very appealing pillow shape (and slightly moister filling) you get making them one by one.

figolli cookie and fast method figolli

traditional Figola on left, Sunshine Sandwich on right

The second is that you wind up with odd scraps of filled dough that can’t be reused – which is how the family cookie jar gets filled.

cutting 2-layer sandwich dough

The once-cut Sunshine Cookie Dough can’t be re-rolled to make more sandwiches.

Solution one: Keep the odd bits flat. Push them together gently to make free-form designs and bake with their shapelier sisters.

Solution two: Save the bits from all batches, piling loosely to one side (or in a plastic bag if you’re spreading the baking out over days). Scatter on a sheet of waxed paper to make a close, somewhat even layer. Pat it into a square, top with more paper and roll a generous ¼ inch thick. Cut into squares and bake.

The icing is standard royal icing (lightly beaten egg white and confectioners sugar) thinned with a little white rum. The deep colors are not what I’d have thought of all on my own, but that intensity seems to be traditional.

assorted figolli cookies

My glam palette was limited to what I could find in local stores, along with the bits in the baking closet left over from glammier days. The brightly colored teardrops are chocolate-coated sunflower seeds. (When I was younger,  I sometimes decorated cookies with elaborate patterns made from tiny nonpareils, picking the single colors from the mix with a tweezer. That was then.)


* Facebook DID remind me, but it appears Ms. Johnson is now doing more tweeting than blogging, so following her @msgourmet  is probably the way to go if you want to keep up.

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