As one of Italy’s most famous festivals, the party before Ash Wednesday can take on stupendous proportions. Since Carnevale is a time to feast before giving up meat and delicacies for the forty days of Quaresima (Lent), many of the traditional dishes are sinfully delicious. During the Carnevale season in Venice, bakery shops are filled with delicious treats, whether filled with cream, sweetened cheese, dates, nuts or raisins – mouthwatering indulgences abound!
Perhaps the best-known of the Carnevale pastries are Cenci, whose many names include Frappe, Chiacchere, Lattughe and Nastrini. It is simple to make, but it does require deep frying.
1 ¾ cups flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon brandy
a pinch of salt
oil for deep frying
Make a fairly stiff dough with these ingredients, kneading it thoroughly and adding more flour if the dough becomes too soft. Once you have a firm consistency, flour the dough and let it rest, covered tightly with plastic wrap for about an hour.
Roll the dough out into an eighth-of-an-inch thick sheet and using a serrated pastry wheel, cut it into strips as long as the palm of your hand and two fingers wide. Make a cut down the middle of each cencio (so as to obtain two strips joined at the ends), twist the side strips without breaking them. Fry the strips in hot oil, until golden. Remove and place onto a paper towel to absorb the oil. Dust the cencio with powdered sugar once cool.
Another traditional desert is Carnevale Cake, featuring the citrus and nutty flavors of Sicily.
Schiacciata alla Fiorentina
1 ½ cup flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup olive oil
¾ cup whole milk
zest of a fresh lemon
1 tbsp lemon extract
1 cup chopped candied lemon peel (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting
Grease a 9” spring form pan. Place the whole almonds through a food processor to grind them finely. Mix the flour, ground almonds, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Once thoroughly mixed, add olive oil and milk and mix until batter is consistent, then add the extract and lemon zest. Mix well.
If you want to use the optional chopped candied lemon peel, this is the time to add it! Mix (for the final time) and the batter is ready. Pour into your greased pan and bake at 350°F until golden and set in the center, about 35 minutes. Release and remove the side of the spring form pan and cool. Dust liberally with sifted powdered sugar.