In Venice the day after Epiphany, January 7th, marks the official start of Carneval – that twelfth century festival, which still today celebrates indulgence in the build up towards the start of Lent. Inspired. Exotic costumes roam the darkened alleyways, masked balls abound in candle-lit palazzi over the canals, and everyone takes to the streets in an explosion of colourful confetti and prosecco. At once surreal and wonderful.
A genuine and legitimate blow-out. Decadent, ostentatious and crowded. Best of all are the traditional sweets: ‘galani’ – wafer thin squares of deep fried sweet pastry dipped in icing sugar – and ‘castagnole’ – tiny little balls of chestnut flour, also deep fried and dipped in sugar – are just some of my favourite choices, among the wide range of street food for sale across the city at this time. But above all, amongst Carneval food, the ‘fritella’ reigns supreme. The ultimate decadence. Often served with a generous dollop of custard or chocolate cream, or better still with boozy zabaglione. ’Fritelle’ are effectively mini doughnuts, although in calling them such, I fear that something is lost in translation. Because they are so much more than simply mini doughnuts. Little balls of light, fluffy dough fried and dipped in sugar, rippled with grappa-soaked raisins, candied peel, and pine nuts. Utterly sublime. In so many ways. Each bite – so lightly scented with alcohol and sweet fruits – will melt in your mouth. It is with supreme confidence, that I declare you not to have lived – until you have at least tasted a ‘fritella’.
Make them today – just follow this simple recipe. And eat them while they’re still piping hot. By the dozen. With a crumbly coating of sugar. Have them in addition to your traditional Shrove Tuesday pancakes, if you must. Die a divine death by sugar. Why not? Lent – and the diet – start tomorrow, after all.
To make ‘fritelle’…
Makes roughly 14-16 small ‘fritelle’, but do not hesitate to double the recipe if you’re feeding a crowd. These are hideously more-ish.
- 125ml grappa
- 100g raisins
- 50g candied peel
- 50g pine nuts
- 125ml milk
- 250g bread flour
- 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 25 sugar for the ‘fritelle’ and a further 100g for dusting
- 1 egg
- sunflower oil for deep frying
Place the raisins and candied peel in a small bowl and cover with grappa, then set to one side to soak. This will give the raisins a wonderful flavour, as well as a lovely plump texture. Warm the butter and milk together in a small saucepan, and take off the heat as soon as the butter starts to melt. Combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl; then beat the egg into the warmed milk, and add to the dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon until well combined. Knead the dough until it reaches a silky consistency. Use a freestanding mixer with a dough hook here if you have one, if not just do it by hand. It should take roughly 10 minutes. Roll your dough into a ball, place in a clean mixing bowl and cover with clingfilm before setting somewhere warm to prove until it has doubled in size (roughly 1-2 hours). When the dough has risen, punch it down, add the raisins and pine nuts, and knead a little more. Then cut the dough into little balls (roughly 4cm in diameter), place on a baking tray and set once again to one side to rise for a further hour. When you’re ready to cook your ‘fritelle’ heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan – make sure that the oil isn’t too hot, as this will burn the outside of the ‘fritelle’ and leave the inside uncooked. If you have a sugar thermometer, try to keep the oil between 140 and 160 degrees (just take the pan off the heat for a few moments, if it’s getting too hot). If you don’t own a sugar thermometer, it might be worth investing in one (they’re not expensive and come in very useful) or otherwise, just keep an eye on the oil – basically you don’t want it to boil. This part sounds much trickier than it actually is – don’t be daunted and give it a try, within your first few doughnuts you will have got the hang of it. Place the little balls of dough into the hot oil (about 4-5 at a time depending on the size of your pan) and cook for 4-6 minutes, periodically rotating them so that they cook evenly (I used a pair of chopsticks to do this, and it worked a treat!). The difficult bit is knowing when they’re cooked through: they shouldn’t take more than six minutes, and when they’re browned on the outside they’re probably done. But the only way to know for certain is to break one open and try it. Tragic but necessary. Once cooked, place on some kitchen towel to soak up any excess oil, then roll in sugar. Eat as is or serve with a drizzle of zabaglione as the ultimate pudding.