20 February 2014

AUNTIE PASTA: I'll Have Some of Those

Chiaviari, Italy - You can call them chiacchiere, or you can call them frappe or bugie or even guanti, but in reality they are all basically the same confectioner sugar dusted fried cookie that signal the start of Carnival in Italy.

My Aunt Louise had a little business in Schenectady, New York called the Old Country Bakery, and guanti were the specialty of the house. But the cookies my Aunt Louise made were a little different than the ones I see here in Italy. Hers were bigger and looked like bow ties. Here they simply cut the dough into strips and fry it. It’s certainly easier and faster but there are fewer nooks and crannies for the powdered sugar to hide, and that’s what makes them so lip smacking good.

Carnival as we know it today started out as a Pagan Roman festival called the Saturnalia. It was the only time of the year when slaves and their masters, with their faces hidden behind masks, could eat, drink, dance and make merry together. And then along came Christianity with a whole new set of rules, none of which included eating, drinking or dancing in the streets.
 Chiacchiere Pugliese
But Saturnalia was so much fun no one wanted to give it up, so the eat, drink and make merry part was incorporated into the Christian religious, but with a slight twist.

The Christians started the transformation by giving the festival a new name: Carnivale. While it sounds festive to us now, the word comes from the Latin “caro” meat and “vale”, farewell, which, when you put them together really means say bye bye to meat and hello to those 40 days of abstinence known as Lent. And so that's where we are.

 Ceni Toscani
Sometimes I wonder what kind of Italy I would be living in if the Roman emperor Flavius Valerius Constantinus, aka Constantine the Great, hadn't supported Christianity. Would I be out dancing in the streets of Chiavari this week throwing confetti in the air? Probably.

Before I get too carried away, here’s a recipe for those, ahh, whatever you want to call them cookies.
 Ready to Fry Bow Ties

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1- ½ cups all purpose flour (plus ½ cup for kneading and rolling)
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teasp Kosher salt (or 1/8 teasp table salt)
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons water* (see note below)
5 tablespoons butter melted and cooled (has to be cool so it doesn’t cook the eggs)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract or 2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 egg white for forming the bows

*You can also use rum, grappa, anisette or whiskey in place of all or part of the water


1 – Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and water until thoroughly mixed. Add the cooled melted butter and whisk again. Finally whisk in the vanilla extract and lemon extract. (The lemon extract may curdle the mix a bit but just blend it smooth). Stir in flour mixture a little at a time until a dough forms.

 2 – Knead the dough:  The dough will be wet and sticky at this point so using your hands, knead in the remaining ½ cup of flour, a little at a time until the dough is soft, smooth and relatively dry. Be careful not to over knead or the cookies won’t be tender.

Let the dough rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

3 – Roll out ½ of the dough: On a well floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thin layer – the thinner your dough the crispier the cookies will be. You can use a pasta rolling machine for this step if you want.

4 – Slice dough into ribbons. After the dough is rolled flat slice the dough into long strips 1-1/2 inches wide. Slice these strips to get ribbons of about 4 inches long. You can use a pizza cutter to get a nice edge on the cookies, but a sharp knife works just as well. At this point you can roll out the rest of the dough or you can wrap it in plastic wrap for another day.

5 -  Form ribbons into bows: Place a bit of beaten egg white in the center of each strip – do this with your finger – this will hold the dough together. Pinch the centers together to form a bow. To secure it, fold that pinch over one more time otherwise it may come apart during frying.

6 -  Fry the bows in hot oil, 1 ½ to 2 inches of oil, in a deep frying pan.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop them out when they are golden brown and drain on paper towels. Dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar or warmed honey while they are still warm.

 Bow Ties
Test that your oil is hot enough before you begin frying by testing it with a drop of cookie dough. If the dough doesn’t puff up and rise to the top of the oil, the oil isn’t hot enough. Continue heating or turn the heat up a little.

Thanks to:
http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com for the recipe

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