We may still be a good few days away, but Carnival is already among us!! And what a great holiday it is! All around the world, floods of colorful masks and costumes come out into the streets and parade festively until the day of Lent, traditionally a time of fasting and reflection. In Italy, we have one of the voted best festivals in the world, in the beautiful city of Venice. Milllions of people come together from all over the globe to take part in these celebrations! And since we’re Italian, you don’t really think we would forget about the food factor, would you? During carnival, Italians will eat, at any time of the day, unlimited quantities of what we in Rome call frappe and castagnole. Across the peninsula you will find they have different names, but regardless of what anybody calls them, there is just nothing like them. And the best thing is that you can literally find them everywhere!!
For those of you who haven’t been blessed with trying them yet, castagnole are these little fried balls of dough, perfectly coated in white sugar granules. Like biting into a sugary cloud! And frappe, completely different but equally delicious, are beautifully crisp layers of pastry, deep fried and covered in icing sugar. Can you honestly think of anything more incredible?
Well, today we went over to some friends’ house for a Sunday lunch, and instead of going out and buying a tray (or two, or three!), we thought we would bring some freshly homemade ones over for dessert. The tray’s gone so I’m pretty sure somebody ate that too!
FRAPPE (makes 1kg)
400g manitoba “0” flour
60g icing sugar
30g egg yolk
6g baking powder
2g lemon zest
1 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp vanilla paste)
10g white wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil for deep frying
Using a kneading machine, or by hand, work the flour, icing sugar, eggs and yolks, baking powder, salt vinegar, lemon zest, vanilla and milk together. As soon as the dough starts to come together, add little chunks of softened butter, a few at a time, incorporating each one into the dough before adding the next. Wrap the dough in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 12 hours.
Once the dough has rested, it must be rolled out (by hand or with a machine), as thin as possible. The sheets should almost be transparent. The thinner you make them now, the crispier they will be later. Now cut the sheets into 5x10cm rectangles.
In the meantime, heat the oil to 160˚C in a deep pan. The frappe are deep fried so you need enough oil for them to be floating in it! Fry 5-6 rectangles at a time, depending on how big your pot is, until they become a light golden color.
Drain on a paper towel, let them cool for a few minutes and sprinkle with icing sugar before you serve. Frappe are good for a few days.
CASTAGNOLE (makes 100)
30g caster sugar
315g “0” flour
30ml dark rum
10g lemon and orange zest
0,75g ammonium bicarbonate
Extra virgin olive oil for deep frying
50g caster sugar for coating
Bring water to a boil in a pot with the butter and the sugar. When it’s just simmering, add 210g of flour all in one go. Quickly stir in the flour until the mixture no longer sticks to the sides of the pot. Stir constantly for about a minute. Remove from the heat and place in a kitchen mixer machine. Beat on low speed to knock out the heat from the mixture. If you don’t have a mixer, you can do this by hand, but be prepared for the pain!! Use a wooden spoon and a lot of strength to beat the mixture until you no longer see vapor coming out of it.
Start adding the eggs one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next. Then add the remaining 105g flour, the rum, the zest and the ammonium bicarbonate. Mix until incorporated.
Side note: ammonium bicarbonate is a white powder used a leavening agent that gives baked or fried goods a light, airy and fluffy texture. Nowadays, it is often replaced with baking soda. However, using ammonium bicarbonate will give you a lighter and crispier texture than baking powder/soda.
Heat the oil to 180˚C. In the meantime, spoon the mixture into a piping bag. Cut the tip of the bag off to a 2cm opening. When the oil is hot, helping yourself with scissors, cut little balls of dough into the hot oil as you push them out of the piping bag. Doing this alone may be challenging and requires quite a bit of coordination!!
Fry the balls a dark golden color, or about 2-3 minutes. Drain well and place on a bed of caster sugar. Roll the balls around until perfectly coated and serve (within the next few hours).
Side note: If you won’t be serving them right away, once the balls are fried, you can freeze them and when needed just heat them in a 200˚C over for a few minutes. Then coat them in sugar and serve!