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May 27, 2019 | Rome, Italy

February sweetness

By | 2018-03-21T18:53:07+02:00 February 5th, 2013|Food & Wine Archive|
The sugary delights match the richness of Carnivale colors.
T

he beginning of February is a time when I couldn’t be more grateful to finally live in Rome again. Having spent the last five Februaries bouncing between Bath and London — cities that take winter very seriously — I learned to cope with “English frigidity.” But never to love it. I did, however, try everything to protect myself against that seeping, unforgiving chill. I bought endless sweaters and jackets and stocked my closet with boots of every kind and color.

But English winter ignores what you wear, and my purchases were no defense. I suddenly needed that extra bit of insulation around my bones. Every day I would curse my summer diet as I stiffly but happily walked into the little bakery on my way to school to order my daily croissant. “That should keep me warm for a while,” I’d tell myself.

Rome has spring-like winter days that London rarely knows. As a child, I loved looking forward to the first daisies in my garden. Twenty-three years later, I still find myself smiling at the sight of early blooming. I know it’s still February but I can look ahead to spring.

But my favorite thing about February in Italy is carnival-time. The focus is on Venice, which has always dressed for the occasion. Countless masks and bright costumes flood the city. Carnival is also a time for sweet delights, including frappe, or angel wings — known as sfrappole in Emilia Romagna, bugie in Genoa, and galani or crostoli in Venice and Trieste — and castagnole, or zeppole, sugar-coated dough balls or fritters. In the midst of various parades you’ll always spot children holding onto them for dear life, and adults casually sneaking one behind their masks when no one is looking. I still do both.

To celebrate the season, and my liberation from Anglo-Saxon winters, I decided to give two of these delicacies a go. Why buy them from the pasticceria when the ingredients you need to make them are plentiful — and cheap. The “hard” part is also the best part: making them.

Frappe (makes 1kg)

Ingredients

  • 400g manitoba “0” flour.

  • 60g icing sugar.

  • 40g butter.

  • 30g egg yolk.

  • 85g eggs.

  • 6g baking powder.

  • 4g salt.

  • 2g lemon zest.

  • 1 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp vanilla paste).

  • 10g white wine vinegar

  • 40g milk.

  • Extra virgin olive oil for deep frying.

Preparation

— Together, work the flour, icing sugar, eggs and yolks, baking powder, salt vinegar, lemon zest, vanilla and milk.

— As the dough comes together, add the softened butter a bit at a time, incorporating it into the dough before adding more. Wrap the dough in cling film and rest in the fridge for 12 hours.

— Roll out the dough as thin as possible. The sheets should almost be transparent. The thinner you make them now, the crispier they’ll be later. Cut 5x10cm rectangles.

— Heat a good amount of oil to 160C in a deep pan. Deep fry until they become a light golden color.

— Drain well, cool for a few minutes and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.

*Frappe will stay crisp for a few days

Castagnole (makes 100)

Ingredients

  • 300ml water.

  • 40g butter.

  • 30g caster sugar.

  • 315g “0” flour.

  • 250g eggs.

  • 30ml dark rum.

  • 10g lemon and orange zest.

  • 0.75g ammonium bicarbonate.

  • Extra virgin olive oil for deep frying.

  • 50g caster sugar for coating.

Preparation

— Bring water to a boil with butter and sugar. When it starts to simmer, add 210g of flour. Quickly stir until the mixture no longer sticks to the sides of the pot. Stir constantly for about a minute. Remove from the heat and beat the mixture until you no longer see vapor coming out of it. You can do this by hand or with a kitchen mixer on low speed.

— Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next. Then add the remaining 105g of flour, rum, zest and ammonium bicarbonate (or baking soda). Mix until incorporated.

— Heat the oil to 180C. 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.

— Fry the balls to a dark golden color, 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).

*If you won’t be serving them right away, once the balls are fried, you can freeze them and when needed heat them in a 200C over for a few minutes. Then coat them in sugar and serve.

About the Author:

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Dalila Ercolani was born and raised in Rome. At 18, she moved to England where she earned a degree in International Management and Spanish at the University of Bath and a Masters in European Public Policy at UCL in London. At university, she fell in love with cooking while learning its basics. After five years in the UK and in Spain, she now lives in Rome and has teamed up with her foodie sister on a food blog called Quattromani.

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