19 February 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Carnival Cookies

Chiaviari, Italy - Chiacchiere are delicate, crispy pastries that here in Italy are only found during the pre-Lent period of madness and mayhem called Carnival.  It can get a little confusing as they are called by different names, depending on where in Italy you are. In Lombardy they are called chiacchiere and lattughe, in Tuscany asking for cenci or donzelle will get you the same cookie.
Cookies Anyone?

However in Emilia you’ll be cookie-less unless you’ll ask for frappe or sfrappole, while up in Trentino they go by cro’stoli. Island hopping in Venice? Look for galani and gale. But if you are traveling straight across the top of the boot to Piedmont with a possible swing by into Liguria, asking for bugie in both of those provinces will get you what you want. There actually are more names for them, but enough is enough.
My Aunt Louise had a little bakery 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 in Chiavari. 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 time of the year when slaves and 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 till you explode, drinking until you fall over or God forbid! dancing in the streets.

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 still are, flipping through recipe books looking for meatless meals. Ugh!

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 throwing confetti in the air and acting like the buffoon that I know I can be? Probably.

 Looks Like Fun to Me
Best not to dwell on that thought for too long. So before I get carried away, here’s a recipe for those, ahh, whatever you want to call them cookies, I’m gonna call them Carnival Cookies.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1- ½ cups all purpose flour (plus ½ cup for kneading and rolling)
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt (or 1/8 teaspoon table salt)
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons water*
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.
Tip: Test that your oil is hot enough before you begin frying by dropping in a small piece 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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