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Buon Carnevale a tutti! Today is Fat Tuesday, known as Martedi Grasso in Italy. The old theory is that today is the last day to feast before you start your Lenten fast. This year we’re celebrating with one of the easiest Carnival treat to make. They are Galani, the Venetian pastry to celebrate Carnival in Venice. And, although they may be the easiest to make, they are possibly the hardest to stop eating. Make them and see for yourself.
A basic sweet dough, they are rolled out very thinly, cut into various shapes, fried and covered in powdered sugar. Each region in Italy has their own name for them, and sometimes their own shape. In Venice they are galani. In the Veneto region, crostoli. In Tuscany, they are cenci (rags). Frappe (tassels) in Umbria and parts of Lazio; chiacchiere in Southern Italy (gossip because the crunch sounds like the chatter of gossip), bugie (lies) from the Northwest of Italy. (Many lie about how many they’ve eaten, but all the powdered sugar on their chests gives them away.) You might also see them in Italian pastry shops under other names, such as nastri (ribbons), lattughe (lettuce leaves), sfrappole or cioffe.
A few Carnivals ago, I made galani with my Venetian friend Monica and her mother. Monica pointed out that the difference between the Venetian galani and the crostoli from the rest of the region is how thick you roll out the dough. Galani are paper thin before going into the fryer, so thin you could place a newspaper under the rolled out dough and still be able to read the newspaper. Crostoli are thicker, more like the chiacchiere I’ve made in Southern Italy.
The recipe below is my recipe for galani. I’ve included instructions for the very thin sweet chip-like style of the galani and those that are a tad bit thicker. See other recipes from my Venetian Carnival adventures: Frittelle filled with Nutella or another frittelle recipe, these filled with pastry cream, or something perfectly sinful for Mardi Gras, decadent Italian hot chocolate from my first visit to Carnival in Venice.
In addition to all the indulgence, there is the saying for today, “A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale,” meaning, at Carnival every joke/prank is allowed. The pranks vary in degree, from giving someone a harmless dousing of confetti or silly string, to one more problematic for the victim, an all-out assault by water balloons or raw eggs. Luckily, I’ve only been a victim of a little confetti or silly string. My suggestion is to have a plenty of these fried treats around to bribe away any would-be offenders.
If you’d like to learn more about the food and culture in Venice, join us this September for a food and wine lover’s week in Venice. We stay in a most luxurious private Venetian palazzo, cook three authentic Venetian meals together, take daily guided food and cultural walks with locals, will spend a day in Prosecco wine country, and dine at the best restaurants in Venice. The price for all that you get on this all-inclusive vacation is no scherzo, either.
(makes about 3 dozen)
3 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons (80 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs (medium size)
5 tablespoons (75 grams) butter, at room temperature and soft
2-3 tablespoons (35-50 ml) dry white wine, and more as needed (You can also use sweet Marsala.)
About 6 cups (1 1/2 liters) of vegetable oil for frying
Powdered Sugar for dusting (1 to 1 1/2 cups)
Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. On a wooden board, make a well with the dry ingredients. Add the butter, broken into pieces and mix together quickly until it is incorporated and a bit mealy. (You can also use a pastry cutter.) Form a well again with the mixture and break the eggs into the center of the well. Gently whisk the eggs with a fork to break the yolks. Add 2 tablespoons of the wine. With the fork, stir the flour mixture from the sides into the center of the well until all the flour mixture has been joined with the wet ingredients. With your hands, gently knead the dough together until all the ingredients are combined. You don’t want to work the dough (or you will make it tough), but you want to knead it only enough so that all ingredients form a homogenous ball. If the dough doesn’t come together, add a little more wine, one tablespoon at a time. After you’ve kneaded the dough, it should be just a little sticky to the touch. Cover with plastic wrap, and rest on the counter for an hour (do not refrigerate).
Once the dough has rested, divide it into two pieces. On a lightly floured wooden surface, roll out one of the pieces of dough to 1/16-inch thick (1 mm) for galani and 1/8-inch thick for a thicker pastry, like chiacchiere, crostoli, etc. With a fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles. At this point, the dough is ready to be fried.
If you’d like to make them a little more decorative, you can make a little cut into the center of each rectangle, and fry like that. For a more twisted looking ribbon or “love knot”, you can twist one end through the cut slit, and then fry the dough. For these twisted ones, I would cut the rectangles to a size of 2×5-inches to leave two flat “flaps” at each end.
Heat the oil in a deep pan until it reaches 365ºF (180ºC). You will know the oil is ready when you place some dough (use some of the scraps from the edges) into the oil and it immediately bubbles.
Gently place (do not drop or the oil will spit out and may burn you) 3 to 4 pieces of dough into the oil at a time. Don’t overcrowd the pan, or you will lower the temperature of the oil and they will not fry properly. Fry them until they are a light golden brown, about three minutes depending on their size and thickness. With a slotted spoon, turn the chiacchiere while they are frying, so both sides are light golden in color. When done, place them on a plate with a paper towel to drain off the excess oil and cool. Dust with powdered sugar. Buon Appetito and Buon Carnevale!