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The Right to Fry: Make your own Fritter for Carnevale

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Venice comes alive for Carnevale, the period of celebration that celebrates the closing of winter and the beginning of the period of Lenten fasting that takes place the month before Easter. Today the festival is riot of color and creativity, you’ll see the canals filled with flotillas of traditional gondolas, locals dress in 17th century costumes and parade the streets, children dress up and throw confetti and the city’s night is marked by the many masked balls and festivities that for many are the highlight of the Venetian social calendar. But overall, Carnevale is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate with special lunches and dinners. At La Bacanera, we lay the tables and prepare special delights for you to experience the real, and very best of what this ancient festival has to offer.

For Venetians, Carnevale is synonymous with fritelle, known as ‘fritoea or fritola’ in the Venetian dialect. They are the ultimate indulgent sweet treat for this time of year, found in bakeries but also served from stalls as street food. Their origin goes back to the late 14t century, and probably earlier, but the modern version is one of the oldest recipes conserved in the Canatense Library in Rome. A Renaissance version of the recipe exists for the ‘fritoea’ is included in Bartolomeo Scappi’s cooking notes, kept at the Correr Museum in Venice.

In the past, the ‘fritoea’ were made exclusively by the fritoleri, who unionized in the 1600s to protect the secrets and exclusivity of their craft. The recipes and rights of frying were jealously guarded and passed down to their children, with each quarter developing its own recipe and techniques. This practice continued up until the 19th century when the rights of exclusivity were dissolved, opening the fritelle up to anyone who wanted to make them.

How to make fritelle di Carnevale

These delicious light and crispy fritters usually contain citrus flavors and are often enhanced with sultanas and pine nuts. They are traditionally made with a choux pastry and fried in vegetable oil and of course generously dusted with icing sugar to finish. Their arrival in Venetian bakery windows herald the arrival of Carnevale and lift the spirits of all who pass by. Below is a recipe for you to try at home:

Fritelle di Carnevale

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 300 g flour 00
  • 1 tsp dry yeast (3 g)
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 40 g granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of half a lemon
  • Grated zest of half an orange
  • 50 g soft unsalted butter
  • 150 ml whole milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 75 g pinenuts, toasted
  • 75 g sultanas, soaked overnight in rum and squeezed dry
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Method

Add the milk to the eggs and vanilla extract and whisk thoroughly to get plenty of air into the mixture. Add the flour, granulated sugar, yeast and citrus zest and mix until evenly combined. Slowly add the egg and milk mixture and combine use an electric mixer.

Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and combine for about 10-15 minutes, a dough should form that should have an elastic and stretchy consistency. Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rest for about 15 minutes, then add the soaked sultanas and toasted pine nuts and fold them in gently. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm and leave to prove, until it has tripled in size. You can lightly knead and stretch the dough from time to time during proofing.

Heat a pan of vegetable oil to about 175 Celsius/347 F, use a kitchen thermometer to judge when it is ready to fry. Spill your dough onto a tray lined with a sheet or parchment paper and use a dessert spoon to spoon round globs of dough in hot oil and fry them. Do not overload the pan and lightly stir the fritelle in the oil to ensure they are fried evenly all over.

When the fritelle have obtained a deep golden color, remove them one by one using a slotted spoon or frying ‘spider’ and place them on a sheet off kitchen paper to drain off excess oil. When your fritelle have sufficiently cooled, dust them generously with icing sugar and serve while still warm.