Easter figolli are being shaped by local traditions as food and art lovers veer off from the typical and clichéd bunny, cat and fish moulds to create edible, almond-filled Maltese tiles and are inspired by lace, filigree and ceramic works.

Creative director Thomas Camilleri’s mission to bring cement tiles back to life through his Lazarus Tiles project has seen him “scavenging” in construction sites and salvaging them from dumps, skips, garages and townhouses destined for demolition over the past pandemic year.

One of Jacqui Farrugia Kettner’s figolli.One of Jacqui Farrugia Kettner’s figolli.

If he cannot first encourage a homeowner to keep them – not only for their beauty, but also for the additional monetary value they lend a property – he has found a way to restore them and mount them on steel frames, elevating them from the floor to artworks hanging on the wall.

And now, their colourful patterns have paved and decorated his Auntie Tessie’s “terrific” figolla recipe in a creation that is hard to distinguish from the real thing.

It all started to fill a void due to his lack of acting opportunities caused by the pandemic, and also because he was in the process of renovating his ─Žamrun home.

Having budget constraints, hating wasting and loving the idea of repurposing items were the ingredients that brought on the tiles project, known as The Lazarus Club on Instagram.

Camilleri realised how many were discarded on a daily basis and wanted to give them a second life – just like Lazarus.

The edible versions are, of course, much easier to slice than their concrete counterparts, which can easily be chipped and broken in the process of removing them from humid floors.

Thomas Camilleri at work making his figolli tiles.Thomas Camilleri at work making his figolli tiles.

It is a tricky job, so it is no wonder Camilleri found the arty figolla version “straightforward” albeit time-consuming.

Chipping away at the cement on the back of a tile, using a hand pickaxe, is no mean feat. But for the figolli, Camilleri’s tools were a thread ‘unpicker’ and a piping syringe instead.

His figolli may be filling, but they are not as heavy as the real thing, weighing in at 1.5kg each and proving to be somewhat “impractical”.

Camilleri would know about that, having carted countless tiles up to a third-floor apartment with no lift.

The cement tiles are washed, waxed and oiled, depending on their state, lustre level and patina – something he managed to emulate to perfection using liquid food colouring, reproducing and matching the pastel, faded shades of the authentic tiles.

By chance, he used a fresco technique to decorate his figolli, tracing the gorgeous patterns on baking paper, puncturing holes around the borders, outlining them with thicker icing and the flooding the area.

While cement tiles are not created in a kiln, but produced under pressure, his figolli went straight into the oven.

His salvaged framed tiles are packaged and certified, showing their origin and name. But Camilleri’s figolli version are unlikely to get to the gift-wrapping stage.

It took an evening to prepare just four of the traditional Easter sweets, usually baked during Holy Week and gifted to family and friends. But Camilleri had no problem biting into and breaking them with a cup of tea, saying the 20x20 slabs of sweetness were “made to be eaten”.

A heart-shaped figolla by Manuel AquilinaA heart-shaped figolla by Manuel Aquilina

The lover of all things design-related said he had wanted to do this long before he dreamt of the Lazarus Tiles project. With a vast choice of patterns at his fingertips this year, he just had to give it a try.

Camilleri is not the first to introduce the Maltese tile to the figolla. The idea to combine two local traditions and hands-on crafts in one novel figolla concept came to artist Stephanie Borg at the beginning of Lent three years ago.

She had been drawing and promoting the Maltese tile in her artworks and products for a decade, so the creation of the square artisanal figolli was immediately set in motion.

Borg has never looked back since. The response has been impressive, she said, admitting she has had to disappoint clients as the limited batch is quickly sold out.

Meanwhile, chef Manuel Aquilina has also combined three Maltese ingredients – figolli, bizzilla and filigree – in his Easter treats and the end result is delicate and detailed heart-shaped pastries.

Jacqui Farrugia Kettner, who has a passion for baking, is also up for change. She has drawn inspiration from contemporary ceramic artist Rika Herbst for her “COVID 2022” figolli.

“I always want to create something different every Easter,” she said about what she describes as “a bit of traditional with a little twist”.

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