Cenci are typical sweets of Carnival in Italy. Along with the ritual of wearing costumes and follow the loud crowd in a street parade, like the ones of the famous Carnevale di Viareggio, also food has an important role in the Italian Carnival traditions.
I remember that, during my childhood, my grandma used to prepare Cenci and rice fritters during the days of Carnival. It was hard to say which was the best for me, as I was in love with both of them.
When she was making Cenci, she wanted me on her side to prepare all ingredients. I was having fun mixing them, feeling my hands stuck in the dough, with my face and clothes dirtied of flour. But the thing I liked the most was plunging the pastry wheel in the dough and cut it into stripes of different shapes to fry.
Fried Cenci and its many different names
These fried pastries have different names. Somewhere in Tuscany, we call them Cenci or Stracci, which literally mean “rags“. The reason for it is the casual shape coming from the cut. But Italians also know them as Chiacchere (literally Chit-Chats) in the northern part of the region and in Milan.
In other regions of Italy, people call them Crostoli, Frappe, Sfrappole, or Bugie. Whatever you call them, you will love their taste and crispness. Be careful because they are addictive. Once you start eating them, you won’t be able to stop until you have empty the tray.
Let’s celebrate Carnival and the Mardi Gras preparing these stripes of delicious sweet pastries. Here is the “easy to make” recipe to fry Cenci the way my grandmother taught me.
Cenci, the traditional pastries of Carnival
- 2 eggs
- 2,5 cups cake pastry flour
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp liquor vermouth or vinsanto or grappa
- 2/3 cups oil for frying peanut or corn or sunflower
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar or caster sugar to garnish
- 1 pince salt
- Put the flour into a bowl or on a wooden pastry board. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour all the eggs, salt, liquor, and sugar.
- Mix all the ingredients with your hands to obtain a smooth dough that no longer sticks to your hands. In case, add a bit of flour to help you to stir it.
- Let the dough rest, dusted with flour, under a towel for about 30 minutes.
- Roll the dough out with a rolling pin (or with the pasta machine) until you obtain a really thin sheet of dough. Add a bit of flour in case you need. The thinner the dough is, the lighter Cenci will be once fried.
- With a pastry wheel (or a knife), cut the pasta in stripes of about 3,5 inches long and 1,5 inches in width.
- Heat the frying oil in a large pan. To be sure to have reached the right temperature, dip a piece of dough into the oil. When little bubbles come around the dough, the oil is ready.
- Fry Cenci for about 20/30 seconds each side until they get a golden brown colour.
- Pull Cenci out of the oil, drain off the oil lying them on a kitchen paper for a few minutes.
- Dust them with the powdered sugar or with caster sugar.
Further Carnival sweets from Tuscany
Another fried pastry you will find on food trucks during Carnival is the Bomboloni, our version of the American donuts. Try to make the Italian version following this Bomboloni Recipe.
As I said before, my Nonna used to prepare another mouthwatering specialty during Carnival time, rice fritters. Even if my beloved grandma passed away years ago, I am glad my mum keeps this tradition alive preparing them every St. Joseph Day, on March 19. Here is the recipe for St. Joseph rice doughnuts, made with love from Tuscany!