These traditional Italian cookies by Anya Kassoff of Golubka Kitchen are almost too beautiful to eat (almost!). A tender shortbread-like dough wraps a fabulous rhubarb filling and is shaped into birds (hence the name Celli Ripieni, meaning 'stuffed birds'). They even get embellished with tiny cacao nib eyes and textured cut feathers. The cookies are just a masterpiece. Tart rhubarb, sweetened with maple syrup and fragranced with orange, is combined with walnuts to become a filling that is a beautiful composition of flavours and textures. The best part of this recipe? It's unexpectedly vegan! Making it the perfect choice to share with any holiday guest.
The recipe is flawless just as it is but of course we had to experiment with it. Try adding toasted hazelnuts and a pinch of cardamom to the filling mixture and your holiday palette will surely thank you!
By Anya of Golubka Kitchen
And these cookies! These are just one great example of a traditionally vegan recipe from Abruzzo that we’ll be serving up at the retreat. Celli Ripieni translates as ‘stuffed birds’ – not a very vegan-friendly name, we know, but it sounds so much better in Italian :). They are made with a very simple, eggless and dairy-free olive oil dough that’s a true pleasure to work with. They are traditionally filled with grape jam and nuts. Since grapes are not in season right now, we thought we would instead fill ours with everyone’s favorite pink plant that is in season – rhubarb.
Anna told us that it’s hard to find these cookies in the traditional bird shape nowadays, and that the cookies are mostly shaped as less elaborate, jam-filled dumplings. We thought it would be fun to recreate the authentic bird shape, and it turned out to be pretty easy. Just take a peek at the gif above, where we demonstrate how to shape one. We love how old-school these feel.
The pastry tastes lovely, almost like shortbread, and it plays so well with the maple-stewed rhubarb and walnut filling. You could basically fill these with any stewed fruit that’s in season, or any jam that you have on hand. We hope you’ll give them a try!
Serves: about 28 cookies
for the pastry
3⅓ cups all purpose flour
½ cup plus 4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup plus 4 tablespoons white wine
2-3 tablespoons coconut sugar
pinch of sea salt
for the rhubarb filling and assembly
5 medium stalks of rhubarb - sliced into small pieces
¼ cup maple syrup
splash of vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1 tablespoon purified water
zest from 1 organic orange
½ cup raw walnuts - chopped
small walnut pieces, cacao nibs or raisins - for the birds' eyes
powdered sugar or more arrowroot powder - for dusting the finished cookies (optional)
to make the pastry
Mix all the pastry ingredients in a bowl until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Make sure not to overwork it. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic and let rest while preparing the rhubarb filling.
to make the rhubarb filling
In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, maple syrup, and vanilla. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer and let simmer for 10 minutes, until the rhubarb turns into a uniform, jam-like mixture. Turn off the heat.
In a small bowl, whisk together the arrowroot with 1 tablespoon of water. Add the mixture to the rhubarb and mix it in vigorously, until the rhubarb jam starts to thicken. Let the jam cool completely.
Mix in the orange zest and raw walnuts, and you're ready to assemble your cookies.
to make the cookies
Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Prepare 2 parchment paper-covered baking sheets.
Divide your dough into two halves. Wrap one of the halves tightly with plastic wrap and set aside. On a well-floured surface, roll out the other half of the dough into a sheet about ⅛" in thickness.
Use a round cookie cutter or a glass/bowl about 3½"-4" in diameter to cut out rounds. Reshape the remaining dough and cut out more, until you've used up all the dough. Keep the dough rounds covered with a kitchen towel while you work.
Place about 1 tablespoon of rhubarb jam in the center of a dough round. Fold it in half and pinch together the edges, like a dumpling. Shape one of the dumpling edges into a bird's head with a pinched out beak. Press a walnut piece, cacao nib, or raisin into the head, where the bird's eye would be. Shape the opposite edge of the dumpling into a tail by flattening it. Use kitchen scissors to cut the beak in half, cut some feathers into the tail, as well as cut some wing marks along the bird cookie's body. Refer to the instructional gif above for a visual. Place the cookie on the prepared baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough.
Bake the cookies, one tray at a time, for about 30-40 minutes, until lightly golden. Start checking at 20 minutes. Let cool. Dust the cookies with powdered sugar or arrowroot powder, if desired, and serve.