Italian Castagnole are a delicious sweet treat, soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The most popular pastry during Carnival time. They are usually fried and while still warm are then rolled in sugar. So good you can’t stop at just one!
Italians like to celebrate carnivale time eating Frappe and Sweet Ravioli. But the most popular treats are definitely Castagnole, and this recipe is one of my family’s favourite. Carnivale is probably one of the biggest holidays of the year, except that it lasts 2 weeks.
What is Carnevale?
Carnevale (Carnival) is a festival that is celebrated in Countries celebrating the Catholic Faith. There is no fixed date since the period it is held depends on when Easter falls. However, it is always during February or March. Lasting approximately two weeks.
The festivities often take place in public squares, where games, festivities and food are shared. It is a very pleasant time mainly for children, who wear costumes and celebrate with their parents in the local town square. Carnevale starts 2 weeks before the beginning of Lent and ends on Shrove Tuesday (or pancake Tuesday as I remember well).
How to make them
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the sugar, eggs, zest, vanilla, softened butter, salt and liqueur (or Orange Juice).Mix together with a fork until almost combined.
Move to a lightly floured flat surface and knead into a smooth soft dough. Wrap in plastic and let rest 30 minutes at room temperature. Cut a piece of dough at a time, and roll the dough to form a 1 inch (2 cm) thick rope. Cut the rope in pieces the size of large (I cut mine very large) cherries and roll between your hands to form balls.
Meanwhile, start heating the oil (in a large fryer or deep pot halfway full), make sure the temperature remains between 335 – 345F (170-175C). Once oil is at the correct temperature, fry a few Castagnole at a time, until they are golden brown and nicely puffed. Drain on paper towels, when cool enough to touch, but still quite warm, roll in granulated sugar or even Turbinado sugar. Serve immediately.
Typical Carnevale Food
- Frappe / Chiachierre -These are crunchy and delicate thin sheets of pastry that are usually deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar
- Sweet Ravioli – A slightly sweet dough filled with a ricotta filling and usually deep fried.
- Venetian Sweet Frittelle – Soft and crispy fried balls that are usually filled with an Italian Pastry cream.
- Struffoli – Are a Neapolitan dish made of deep fried balls of sweet dough.
- Tortelli – Known as fried cakes, as they are frying a hole is created inside where you can stuff them with your favourite filling if desired, best eaten warm rolled in sugar.
How to Fry
Choose the correct oil, Peanut oil is considered the best because it has a delicate flavour. I usually use an oil specifically made for frying. Make sure you use enough oil, food should be able to move freely and not stick to the bottom. A good rule is fill the pot to half full or at least 2 – 3 inches of oil.
Be sure to heat your oil before frying, I always use a thermometer. You could also try by throwing in the pan a crouton or a piece of carrot. If it starts to sizzle and forms a lot of bubbles around it, then the oil is ready to start frying.
Although I don’t like this way, because it is hard to tell if your oil gets too hot, then the food fries too quickly, when the oil is not hot enough then the food does not cook on the inside. Always fry a few pieces at a time, because too many together can lower the temperature of the oil. Which can leave the food less crispy and greasier. Place fried food on a paper towel lined plate to remove excess oil.
If you are frying a lot of food keep the food warm in an oven that has been pre-heated (but has been turned off) and with the door half opened. Do not cover them, or they will become soggy. Fried food is always best eaten immediately.
Can they be baked?
Yes they can be baked, place the formed balls on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake in a pre-heated 350F (180C) oven for approximately 12-15 minutes. Instead of rolling in sugar, dust the cooled castagnole with icing/powdered sugar. Place any leftovers in an airtight container, they should keep for up to 3 days at room temperature.
How to store them
This is the type of food that should be eaten immediately they day they are made, the longer they sit out the drier they will become.
When I woke up this morning I was reminded by Italian that Shrove Tuesday was just around the corner and shouldn’t I get a start on those Castagnole? And while I was at it I should probably whip up some Frappe too!
Castagnole are a traditional sweet treat made only during this time of the year. Deliciously crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Easy to make and so good to eat. Enjoy!
- 1 ½ cups flour (200 grams)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 pinch of salt
- ¼ cup sugar (55 grams)
- 2 eggs
- 1 zest orange
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 3 tablespoons butter (softened) (42 grams)
- 1 teaspoon Gran Marnier or Orange Juice
- vegetable oil for frying
- granulated sugar for rolling
- In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the sugar, eggs, zest, vanilla, softened butter, salt and liqueur (or Orange Juice).
- Mix together with a fork until almost combined then move to a lightly floured flat surface and knead into a smooth soft dough. Wrap in plastic and let rest 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Cut a piece of dough at a time, and roll the dough to form a 1 inch (2 cm) thick rope. Cut the rope in pieces the size of walnuts and roll between your hands to form balls.
- Meanwhile, start heating the oil (in a large fryer or deep pot halfway full), make sure the temperature remains between 335 - 345F (170-175C), (too high and they cook on the outside but not in the middle / too low and they remain soggy). Once oil is at the correct temperature, fry a few Castagnole at a time, until they are golden brown and nicely puffed. Approximately 2-3 minutes, but turn often so they brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels, when cool enough to touch, but still quite warm, roll in granulated or turbinado sugar. Serve immediately. Enjoy.
Updated from March 1, 2014.