It is Carnevale right now and most Italians would not pass the opportunity to munch on the delectable seasonal deep fried pastries called chiacchiere (pronounced kiah-kihe-reh). They are crisp, not overly sweet, feather light and shatter as soon as you pop one in your mouth. They are insubstantial and irresistible, at any time of the day. The hallmark of good chiacchiere is their lightness and irregular look: when you slip them into the hot frying fat (once lard, now vegetable oil), they puff up dramatically and end up looking like some out-of.space rock formation a child might have drawn. Chiacchiere are popular throughout the country, but crop up with different names: chiacchiere (meaning chatter or gossips), bugie (lies), frappe, cenci (rags), galani, lattughe (lettuces), cioffe , crustuli etc.
They are sold at bakeries, pastry shops (pasticcerie), supermarkets, street markets: they are everywhere at this time of the year. As soon as Carnival is over (46 days before Easter, when Lent begins), they disappear, only to come back the following year. This rituality and clinging to traditions I find endearing and one of the most precious aspects of Italian food.
There are endless versions of chiacchiere, all pretty similar: after all, chiacchiere are nothing more than a glorified egg pasta dough that is deep fried and (generally) dusted with sugar.
Some people like to drizzle honey or vincotto over the chiacchiere, in the South of Italy chiacchiere can be found paired with sanguinaccio, a delicious jam-like concoction of chocolate and pig’s blood (believe me: it is as delicious as it is rare, these days): all good choices, even if I prefer the purity of the original version.
The following is an adapted version from Italian uber patissier Luigi Biasetto. The dough is subtly flavoured with orange and lemon zest and the binding liquid being used should be Triple Sec – I did not have it and I used white wine only. Making the dough for chiacchiere and rolling it is akin to making savory egg pasta: if you have doubts, please check the detailed explanation given by Marcella Hazan in her Marcella Cucina
Chiacchiere – Carnival pastries
Adapted from a recipe from renowned top patissier Luigi Biasetto, which I found on this excellent blog.
For 4 portions
220 g 00 flour or plain flour (UPDATE:the original version calls for MANITOBA flour, to get bigger bubbles: I tried it and it is correct. I would now use manitoba as my first choice)
20 g caster sugar
3 gr salt
2 gr baking powder
45 g full fat milk
1 egg, whisked with a little vanilla
20 g white wine or vermouth or grappa, in fact any strong liqueur (or half wine, half liqueur)
20 g butter (softened, if making the dough by hand)
grated zest of half an orange of of half a lemon
Mix all the ingredients as if you are making pasta dough, either by hand or in a a food processor. If the dough feels too dry, add a little more white wine by the teaspoon. I use a FP: I place flour, sugar, salt, baking and zest in the bowl of the FP and I whizz to mix. I then add the liquid and I pulse until the dough starts coming together in clumps. I finish kneading by hand.
Rest the dough wrapped in cling film, in a warm spot for at least one hour: Mr Biasetto says that this is crucial to obtain later those bubbles chiacchiere are know for: I was not hundred per cent sure sure about this, but I followed the instructions .In the past I made chiacchiere without such rest and I can honestly say they were not the worse for it. Who knows?. I rested the dough in the oven, where I had inserted a mug full of boiling water.
The dough has now to be rolled out very thinly using a pasta machine. Pass the dough through every single notch of the pasta machine – you do want the dough to go through the very last setting too. Again check Hazan if in doubt.
Divide the strips of dough into rectangular small post card size pieces, and, using a fluted wheel, cut two or three slashes in the middle of each piece. Deep fry the chiacchiere, keeping the vegetable oil at 175 Celsius/347 F.
It is a matter of seconds: I recommend frying chiacchiere one at a time and to remove it as soon as it is barely gold, turning it once in the oil. Check my video. Drain and dust with either icing sugar or caster sugar when cold. Dust with icing sugar before eating them. If you want to to store them, leave them unsugared.
On the flour: according to Mr Biasetto (and other top Italian patissiers) a strong bread should be used for chiacchiere: this would allow the dough to be rolled out transparently thin and then to be fried without it absorbing too much oil. I have never had issues using a softer, lower protein plain flour, which I think delivers a better, more tender feel. UPDATE: I did try with MANITOBA and the chiacchiere puffed up more in the oil, as Biasetto says. I would now use manitoba as my first choice
On deep frying the chiacchiere: my recommended temperature of 175 C/347 F is ideal. I have seen recipes suggesting to deep fry the chiacchiere at a higher temperature: I think that is a mistake, because the risk of burning them is high. Chiacchiere should be a delicate gold colour, no more.
For extra crips and dry chiacchiere: when they are cold, do not dust them with sugar but place them in a slow oven (120 C/266 F) for about 20 minutes.
Chiacchiere should be stored in a covered tin and they keep well for up to a week or longer, even if, I think they are at their best for the first few days only.
Carnevale 2020: this year they did not puff up as the first time. I left them to dry on the table, covered (I had to go out) and this might have been the cause. Still very good