Here’s a post to learn everything there’s to know about Carnival desserts, as well as discover some new recipes to try make your very own Tuscan Carnival desserts. If you’re not one for cooking, we wouldn’t worry, as you can still happily celebrate this festivity with some Ghiottini.
Why do we eat desserts for Carnival?
The reason why is that, not long ago, when religious concepts were considered stricter, Carnival time was one of abundance, which came right before the 40-day fast right before Easter – lent.
During Carnival you could eat as much as you liked, as you’d soon be fasting too. So Carnival had also the function of regulating the sin of gluttony, establishing which food was best to eat – usually very nutrient food – and the best way to eat it – usually bingeing with friends and family. This included also desserts, which obviously were the real Carnival delicacies.
But what are the Tuscan Carnival desserts of choice?
The Tuscan Carnival desserts are Cenci, Rice Frittelle, Florentine schiacciata and the Berlingozzo. The first two are deep fried, while the Schiacciata and the Berlingozzo are two oven-cooked desserts.
In Tuscany we call them cenci, but in the rest of Italy you can find them under different names, such as frappe, chiacchiere, or galani. In every region of our Italian boot, everyone has his own recipe. But of course the Tuscan one includes our dessert wine, Vinsanto.
Carnival Cenci Recipe
240 g of flour, 20 g butter, 20 g icing sugar, 2 eggs, 1 little spoon of bicarbonate of soda, a pinch of salt, 2 soup-spoons of Vinsanto, oil to deep fry
- Put the flour on a pastry board, make a well and put in there all the other ingredients.
- Work the dough with your hands, knead it for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and not sticky.
- Wrap the dough in a clean kitchen towel, and let it rest for 30 minutes
- Roll out the dough with a rolling pin and make it into a thin dough, resembling phyllo. Then cut it in stripes of 3cm width.
- Deep fry your cenci (stripes) in the boiling oil, turning them quite often to ensure they are cooked evenly.
- Let them dry on some kitchen paper, and finally dust them with a lot of icing sugar.
In Tuscany we make Frittelle both for Carnival and for the 19th of March, day in which we celebrate St. Joseph. In both instances they are made in the same way. They are one of the most irresistible traditional desserts, and we bet no one can say no to a frittella. The recipe can vary, even though the basis are always the same: we cook the rice in milk, together with citrus peels. Some people like to add raisins and pine nuts, while others don’t; and recently some bakeries have started stuffing frittelle with chocolate and custard creams. It takes two days to make some delicious Rice Frittelle, so be ready to save some time if you want to try our recipe.
Rice Frittelle recipe
200 g rice, 800 ml milk, 2 eggs, 80 g of flour, 1 small spoon of powder yeast, 30 g of butter, 30 g sugar, 1 soup-spoon of Rum, 1 lemon peel, salt.
- On the first day… put the milk in a pan on slow fire with the grated lemon peel, and half a small spoon of salt. As soon as it starts boiling add the rice, and let it cook until it has absorbed the milk, more or less 30 minutes.
- Take the pan off the hob, add the butter in small cubes, and the sugar. Stir well, and then let it cool down. Once cold, put the mix in a bowl, cover it with cling film and leave it in the fridge overnight.
- The next day take it out of the fridge and knead it with a wooden spoon to make it softer. Add the Rum, sifted flour and yeast, 1 egg white, and 2 yolks.
- Mix everything and let it rest for one more hour.
- Once the hour is over, warm up the oil in a pan, and with a spoon put the mix in the oil in little chunks. The right dose it’s less than half a soup spoon per frittella. Fry the chunks until they swell and gain a dark golden colour.
- Drain them, let them dry and dust them with sugar.
Every year at Carnival, in Florence there’s a discussion to decide which bakery is making the best Schiacciata. There’s who likes it with cream, who with Chantilly, and then there are the fundamentalists who want it only ‘empty’, or rather without filling. Everyone has their own trusted baker…
There’s who actually goes to try out different ones, from different bakers, so not to let his experience be influenced by the name of the baker. The Schiacciata is a simple cake, but it’s not that easy to make. That’s why it’s often ordered to bakers directly, rather than homemade. For those interested in the recipe and who speak Italian, we recommend having a look at Il libro della vera cucina fiorentina by Paolo Petroni; if you’re looking for a recipe in English, we’d advise having a look at Juls’ Kitchen’s recipe.
Not that popular anymore, but definitely traditional, Berlingozzo looks like a big flat doughnut that tastes like anise. It takes its name from the verb ‘berlingare’, or rather “drink and chat having your stomach full and warmed up by wine’. The term Berlingaccio is so also a nickname for the Thursday before Lent during which ‘you have a good dinner, and eat abundantly’ (Vocabolario della Crusca). In all this abundance, we cannot miss the traditional cake of this day, prepared and served since the Medici times.
3 eggs, 200 g of sugar, 1 small spoon of anise seeds, flour, 1 small spoon of yeast for cakes
- In a bowl beat 3 yolks (keep the egg whites on a side) and 1 egg white with the sugar, until you get a foamy mix. Add the anise seeds, the yeast, and little by little add some sifted flour. Once you get a sticky and thick dough, you can stop adding flour and start kneading with your hands.
- Put some flour on your hands, take the dough and make a doughnut, pressing it down on a sheet of baking paper. Give it a flat shape with a hole in the middle. Beat the egg whites left, and brush them over the doughnut.
- Put it in a pre-heated oven at 180°C and cook it for 20 minutes. As soon as you take it out of the oven, take advantage of it being soft, and mark some slice cuts on the Berlingozzo. Then let it cool down. Once cold, it will be hard, but easy to break along your marks!