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Holiday Breads
Heart-shaped St. Joseph's Day decorative breads
Decorative Breads for Saint Joseph's Altar/Le Vastedde (made without yeast; pastry dough filled with dried figs and raisins)
Originated from: Molise, Italy
Occasion: St. Joseph's Day
Contributed by: Taken from Rizzi DeFabo's cookbook, "Cooking with Rizzi" (Crabtree Press, 2010)

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For Dough:
5 pounds all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons salt
1 pound shortening
water, slightly less than 1 quart

For Fig Filling:
4 pounds dried figs, stems removed
1 pound dark raisins


To Make Dough:

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt.

Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, as for a pie crust.

Add water and knead until smoth.

Cover and allow to stand for about 1 hour.

Roll out dough large enough to cut out the desired shape.

Dough should not be too thin, no less than 3/8-inch thick.

To Make Fig Filling:

Place figs in large bowl, and add warm water to cover.

Let stand 10 minutes.

Drain figs and mix with raisins.

In small batches, grind fig mixture in a food processor or meat grinder.

Mixture must be finely ground.

Set mixture aside.

Different shapes can be made with this recipe. For example, to make a heart-shaped fig-filled bread, cut the desired size heart out of a piece of paper to use as a template. Roll dough out to 3/8-inch thickness. Lay dough on a greased cookie sheet. Using template, cut out heart shape.

Spread enough fig filling over dough to cover the center of the heart, leaving a 1-inch space around the edges.

Gently brush edge with water.

Roll out a second piece of dough on a lightly floured surface, and using the template, cut out a second heart shape.

Gently place second heart shape over the fig-filled heart.

With your fingers, press edges together. Flute edges by hand as you would a pie crust, or seal with a fork.

At this point, whole cloves may be pressed along the outline of the heart to help seal the dough and add additional decoration.

Using a very sharp knife or Exacto (craft) knife, cut desired shapes, such as flowers, or the word "Saint Joseph," into the top layer of dough, pulling away excess dough from around design, so that the fig filling is visible. It is similar to doing cut-out work.

Bake the bread in a 300 degree F oven until dry, about 1 hour.

Cool completely.

Bread may be wrapped loosely in newspaper and stored from year to year.

YIELD: The dough and filling will make several pieces, depending on desired size. Dough and filling may be divided for smaller quantities.


This recipe was taken from Rizzi DeFabo's cookbook, "Cooking with Rizzi" (Crabtree Press, 2010) with the expressed permission of the author, an award-winning Italian-American chef and owner of "Rizzo's Malabar Inn." "Rizzo's Malabar Inn" is located in southwestern Pennsylvania (126 Rizzo Road, Crabtree, Salem Township). The food served at this restaurant, a local landmark dating back to the 1920s, reflects the culinary traditions of Abruzzo and Molise. Rizzi DeFabo notes in his cookbook that "This is a recipe to make the traditional breads that adorn the Saint Joseph table. It is based on a recipe from Eugene Fedeli, who is an internationally-known teacher and master at making these breads. My sister-in-law Annie now makes them for our St. Joseph feast. She skillfully and beautifully turns out different pieces each year. They can be stored from year to year if carefully packed. The breads include a peacock, Saint Joseph's staff, cut-out breads, and the Blessed Virgin's slippers...." Photo: Mary Melfi.

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