Two weeks ago we were talking about Carnevale and I teased everyone with the idea of a special treat only available this time of the year. Well here it is! These light pieces of fried dough with a hint of vin santo and lemon then covered with a sprinkling of sugar are most commonly known as Chiacchiere (other names being: frappe, bugie, frappole, galani, frittole, or crostoli), but here in Florence we call them Cenci ‘rags’ due to their rectangular shape.
Not many people know the story of Cenci, but according to historians they go back to Roman times. The Roman women would prepare them, in large quantities, with eggs and flour and then fry them in lard. They were made in celebration of Saturnalia (now our Carnivale). They were generally made in large quantities to last through the now period of Lent.
The recipe has changed only slightly since the Romans, with slight variations made by regional traditions. They are easy to make and at such a low cost they have been considered a part of the ‘cucina povera’ (remember we talked about this from the Ribollita, basic good food using local ingredients).
Now some recipes will cover these sweets in honey, cocoa powder, or nutella; others have changed the shape so the they look more like bow ties or knots. Some regions have gone as far as to create a filling! No matter how you make them they last for weeks if kept in a closed container in a cool, dry space.
Enough of all of that talk, let’s get cookin’!
2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp baking soda
zest from 1 lemon
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp Vin Santo
about 2 cups of frying oil (vegetable or peanut as you prefer)
- On a large working surface make a mound of the flour with a hole in the middle. In the hole place the rest of your ingredients.
- Begin to work the ingredients together with your hands or a fork adding flour from around the edges as you go. Knead the dough for about 10 min until it becomes elastic and smooth – it should no longer stick to your hands. Lightly dust the ball of dough with flour and cover with a cloth to rest for about 30 min.
- Roll out the dough as thin as possible, about 1 to 2 mm in thickness will be perfect, so they will be very light once fried. Dust the dough as needed to avoid it from sticking to the rolling pin or board – be sure shake off any extra flour to avoid the unpleasant taste of burnt flour from the frying.
- Cut the dough with a pizza wheel or ravioli pasta cutter wheel into 6 inch by 3 inch strips.
- Heat the oil in a sturdy frying pan until it reaches about 375°F. If you don’t have a cooking thermometer you can use some scraps of dough to see if the oil is ready – dip the dough in the oil, if it’s ready there should be lots of little bubbles that encompass the dough.
- The Cenci need about 30 seconds to fry per side. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.
- Remove from the oil and let them drain on paper towels or frying paper. Then dust them with regular or powdered sugar!
- Eat them warm or cool and enjoy your traditional Florentine (and Italian) carnival treat!