Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Carnival fare

Cenci, chiacchiere and frappe

A friend has written to remind me that now is the time for cenci.  In Italian cenci are rags or dusters but at this time of year we are talking about something else entirely. 

Now that we are in the upswing to Carnival (Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras) and before the downswing to penitential Lent, the locals are making cenci, which resemble rags but taste of the ingredients of the season. They are made of egg, flour, orange peel, Grand Marnier and baking powder. The resulting dough is rolled out thin, cut into ragged strips, which are deep-fried in oil and dusted with icing sugar. The frying is what associates them with Carnival, rather like pancakes for Pancake Tuesday, and is what makes them so delicious. Often a baked version is also available...but less wonderful. In Milan they are called chiacchiere, 'chatter' and in other parts of Italy they are called frappe.

Here is a genuine recipe for 'Rags' from Anna Guarducci, an excellent cook from Panzano. We hope to have a photo of hers soon; in the meantime, here are some (which were - I stress the past tense - truly delicious) from Panzano's pasticceria Sieni:

cenci, chiacchiere or frappe for carnival on typical pasticceria's tray

Cenci (Rags)

500 g (18 oz., 3 1/2 cups) all purpose white flour
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons  sugar
2 Tablespoons confectioners'/icing sugar
1 inner part of a vanilla bean
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1/8 cup Grand Marnier
100 ml cream
4 tspns baking powder
2 litres (2 US quarts) peanut oil for deep frying
confectioners'/icing sugar for dusting

1. Weigh flour into a large bowl and make a well
2. Dissolve baking powder in cream over low heat and cool
3. In the centre of the well, combine the eggs, sugar, confectioners' sugar, inner part of the vanilla bean, grated zest and juice of an orange, Grand Marnier and cream with baking powder and cream
4. Gradually incorporate the ingredients in the well with the flour and knead to form a smooth, soft dough
5. Pour the peanut oil into a heavy 3 quart (3 litre) saucepan and heat to 375° F (190° C).
6. Break off pieces of dough and roll out one at a time on a lightly floured surface until 1/8 inch (.3 cm) thick.  With fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into roughly shaped pieces that look like rags.
7. Lower the pieces into the oil and fry until golden on both sides. Remove the cenci with a wire skimmer, drain and dust with confectioners' sugar. 

They are best when warm, delicious on the day they are made, but will keep in an airtight container...if you can keep your hands off them!

With many thanks to a friend for supplying recipe, text and translation...

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for providing a recipe for the cenci! I did not know their Tuscan name. I am a little afraid of the side effects of frying in my small flat, but it is a great temptation to make them. In New Orleans I recently got to taste that city's famous "beignets", which are not that different: also fried and dusted with sugar. The main difference is that they are soft and dough-y, not crisp and crunchy!

    I guess we have one more week to make these before Ash Wednesday arrives.


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