These crunchy fried ribbons with a hint of orange zest and sweet wine, are covered with a thin layer of powdered sugar and are a traditional treat around Carnival time in Italy. Every family have its own recipe but they are all equally delicious.
This year, we couldn’t go to Italy for Christmas, so we went at the end of January, which is unusual. This time we brought almost empty luggages so that we could fill them out with all the food we were missing, so we went to the supermarket, feeling almost like tourists.
The first thing I noticed when we entered the bakery side of the supermarket, was this delicious fried pastry. I haven’t eaten it in years, so I yelled “Cenci!!” pointing at them, in the middle of the supermarket with people staring at me. But I knew they were too brittle to put in the luggage and we were leaving the next morning so we didn’t have time to eat them. So I had to relunctantly leave them there and inside of me I thought “this year I will make them myself“.
My mom, just like most of the Italian moms, make them every year. I used to help her make them years ago. She likes them very very thin, so thin that they melt in your mouth. I like them a little thicker, with more bite. So we usually had a bowl of different shapes and thicknesses to make everybody happy.
I knew that Cenci were quite easy to make, although I always had troubles with fried food. Getting the oil to the right temperature and keeping it there, for me was quite challenging. If the oil was too cold, the food would be soaked with oil; if it was too hot, it would burn in a second. I never seemed to get it right, so I avoided frying as much as possible.
But now I’m older and better at cooking, so I knew I could make it. And I did. Seeing this large bowl of Cenci on my table made me so happy. I finally felt like a real Italian mom – although I’m not a mom yet. I could see myself in the future, making Cenci every year for my kids, proudly following the Italian tradition.
The history of Cenci
Cenci is the name we use only in Tuscany, to call these delicious fried pastry. But these pastries are all around Italy and every region have a different name to call them. There are more than 40 different variations of names for this pastry, in Italy alone.
The most used names in Italy are Chiacchiere, Frappe, Bugie, Crostoli and Cenci. But there are many more names and all so different from each other, as you can see in this map, although the recipe is more or less the same.
The origin of this fried pastry comes from ancient Rome. Around Carnival time they used to fry pastry dough in fat and called them frictilia.
When the ancient Rome expanded their Empire in Europe, they also brought this traditional treat with them and is still nowadays a tradition in many Countries. They call them Marveilles or Bugnes in France, Räderkuchen in Germany, Croustouille in Belgium, Orejas in Spain, Chrusty or Favorki in Poland, Klenäter in Sweden and so on.
Another name with which these pastries are commonly known is Angel Wings, and in some parts of United States are also a tradition around Carnival time.
Note: I used Vin Santo in my recipe, which is a traditional sweet wine from Tuscany. But you can use any other sweet wine or liquor you have available such as Brandy, Grappa, Marsala or Sambuca. If you want to make them alcohol-free, simply replace with water.
Cenci – Carnival Fried Pastry
- 240 g (1 cup) Flour
- 20 g (1 tbsp) Butter melted
- 20 g (1 1/2 tbsp) Sugar
- 2 Eggs
- 2 tbsp Vin Santo Sweet Wine
- 1 Orange Zest
- Peanut Oil
- Powdered Sugar
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour with sugar, orange zest and a pinch of salt. Add the room temperature melted butter and the whisked eggs.
- Mix everything together, then slowly add the liquor, continuing the kneading. If the dough is already wet and sticky, add less liquor than stated in the recipe, or add a little more flour. Knead with your hands until you get a soft and uniform dough, lightly sticky.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the dough on a floured board and knead again for a couple of minutes, then divide it in 4 and flatten it with a rolling pin or a pasta machine. Roll the dough until you get a thin sheet (I used number 2 in the pasta machine).
- Cut the dough into ribbons 2×5 inches (5×13 cm) and cut a slit or 2 in the center.
- In a large pan, bring the peanut oil to temperature 375°F/190°C. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test by tossing a tiny piece of dough, if it starts frying immediately it’s ready.
- Then add 2 or 3 Cenci at a time (don’t crowd them or the temperature will go down).
- Fry for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden brown. Then transfer to a plate covered with kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.
- Adjust the heat accordingly if the Cenci brown too quickly or if they take too much time to brown, trying to keep the oil temperature constant.
- Add a sheet of kitchen paper on every layer, to absorb the excess oil. Let the Cenci cool down, then transfer them to a serving bowl, sprinkling powdered sugar on every layer to uniformly coat them.
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