I’m not sure what appeals to me more about these fried sweets ~ the way the ribbons of dough puff up so exuberantly when they hit the pan of hot oil, or the many colorful names Italians have for them.
In Abruzzo they are called either “chiacchiere” ~ which translates loosely to “chatter” or “gossip” ~ or “cioffe,” which means…I’m not exactly sure what it means. Maybe it refers to the sound the strips of dough make as they puff in the oil or the crunch when you bite into them. I am no linguist; I am guessing.
Elsewhere in Italy they are known as “bugie” (lies); “cenci” (rags); “crostoli” (a reference to the crunchy texture); “frappe,” or “sfrappole” (no idea). In the U.S. they’re sometimes called “bow ties” or “angel’s wings” for their shape. My preferred term is chiacchiere because it happens to be one of my favorite words in the Italian language. My mom and her sisters often got together with friends and relatives for “un caffe e due chiacchiere” ~ coffee and a little chitchat.
Here’s how you pronounce it: KYAH-kyeh-reh. Light and bubbly, just like the chatter it refers to, just like these airy fried ribbons.
Italy is awash in fried sweets during Carnevale, the weeks leading up to Lent: sweet ravioli, cream-filled doughnuts, warm chestnut-shaped fritters known as castagnole, and (my favorite) cicerchiata, the glorious wreath of fried dough nuggets molded together with honey.
And, of course, chiacchiere. Or bugie. Or crostoli. No matter what you call them, the basic recipe is the same: flour + egg + some type of alcohol, whether it’s wine, Marsala, brandy or grappa. Most recipes also include a small amount of fat ~ either lard or butter. My friend Paola swears by her mother’s recipe, which uses no fat (beyond eggs) to produce extra-crunchy crostoli. You can make the dough the traditional way, by mounding the flour on your counter top and mixing in the other ingredients. But as with pasta dough, a food processor makes quick work of it.
This is not to say that no effort is involved. In order to obtain crisp, light chiacchiere you must roll the dough into thin strips ~ as though you were going to make ravioli. I use my pasta machine. Use a fluted pastry wheel to cut the strips into small rectangles about 3 inches long and 3/4 to 1 inch wide. To make the classic twisted ribbon, make a slice in the center of the rectangle (see second photo above) and gently thread one end through it. You can also make simple knots or cut skinny ribbons and fry them as is. Use your imagination.
Keep in mind that these pastries fry quickly ~ within a matter of seconds. I fry them two or three at a time; otherwise it’s a race to corral them with my skimmer and remove them from the hot oil before they get too dark.
You will end up with many, many chiacchiere ~ somewhere around 150. However, they keep well and they go fast. As the Italians say, “uno tira l’altro” ~ “one pulls the other.” In other words, like a good gossip session, once you get started it’s hard to stop.
These crispy fried pastry ribbons go by many names ~ bugie, cioffe, crostoli, frappe, and chiacchiere. They are a typical Carnival treat throughtout Italy, and despite the fact that they are fried, they are quite delicate. It's hard to stop at just one. The pastries themselves are not that sweet, so garnish them with a generous dusting of powdered sugar or drizzle of honey right before serving. They will keep, in an airtight container, for at least a couple of weeks.
- 2 1/3 cups (300 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 1/4 cup (50 g) superfine sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
- 4 tablespoons (50 g) butter, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons grappa or dry white wine (I use 2 tablespoons grappa and 1 tablespoon wine)
- About 2 tablespoons milk
- Sunflower or neutral vegetable oil for frying
- Powdered sugar and/or honey for garnish
Place the flour, sugar, salt, and zest in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Distribute the butter around the bowl in pieces and pulse to work it in. Add the eggs and liquor/wine and pulse again. Dribble in a little milk ~ just enough for the dough to come together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. It should be slightly softer than pasta dough but not sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for 30 minutes. Divide it into quarters and rewrap three of them. Run the remaining piece through a pasta machine and stretch it to a thickness of about 1/16 inch ~ very thin!
With a fluted pastry wheel, cut the strip into 3-inch by 3/4-inch rectangles. Make a vertical slice in the center of each rectangle and thread one end through it to form the classic bow tie twist. Roll out and cut the remaining pieces of dough. Make sure you have enough room for all the little rectangles. If not, roll out, shape, and fry one portion at a time.
To fry, pour oil to a depth of 1 to 2 inches into a deep-sided skillet or Dutch oven. Heat on medium-high until the oil shimmers (375 F). Gently drop two or three ribbons into the hot oil, and fry for about 10 seconds, turning them once so they color on both sides ~ they should be golden. Turn the heat down if they start to brown too quickly.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the chiacchiere to a paper towel-lined baking tray to drain and cool. Dust generously with confectioners' sugar or drizzle with honey just before serving. Store them at room temperature in an airtight container, where they will keep for at least a week.