Carnevale will be starting soon in Italy and these little delicious morsels called cenci are a traditional treat during that time. They are very much like the elephant ears we have in this country – fried pieces of dough, dusted in powdered sugar. There are many different recipes for them and different names. I’ve made mine with the fresh taste of orange zest and a little rum.
I rolled out the dough with a pasta maker, but if you don’t have one this dough is very easy to work with. You can cut the dough into 4″ strips and fry them, or you can tie the strips into bows, which I like to do.
When frying these in hot oil, lowering them in with something is a little safer than dropping them in. I like to do this with a spider, a handled strainer that I can also use to roll the cenci around in the hot oil and then lift them out and place them on paper towels to drain.
for a printable recipe click here
- 1½ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 Tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
- zest of 1 orange
- 2 Tablespoons Vin Santo or Rum
- Canola oil for frying
for the topping:
- additional confectioners sugar
- honey (optional)
Combine flour, baking soda, salt and the confectioner’s sugar in a bowl and combine thoroughly. Place mixture on the counter in a pile and make a well in the middle (like you do to make fresh pasta).
Break eggs into the well. With a fork, beat the eggs and then add the other ingredients to the eggs and whisk in. Start pulling the flour mixture into the egg mixture and combine. Knead until a nice dough forms, adding a little more flour if you need it. A pastry scraper helps with this process. Dust the dough ball with flour and wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
Cut the dough into four pieces. Roll each piece out until it is fairly thin – I used a pasta machine and rolled it out until setting #4. With a pastry wheel, slice half-inch strips out of the sheets. Cut these strips into 4-inch lengths. You can either leave the strips like this to be fried, or tie them into bows, which I like to to do. Place your unfried dough strips or bows onto a floured sheet pan (you will probably need two) until they are all done.
Heat the canola oil for frying until it is between 325° and 350° F. If you don’t have a fryer, just use a medium saucepan. Pour enough canola oil so there is about 3 inches of oil. You can test the temperature with a candy thermometer, if you have one. If you don’t, you can throw in a little scrap of dough when you think the oil is hot enough and see if it turns golden.
When the oil is ready, place a few of the dough bows onto a spider and lower into the hot oil. Be sure to shake off the excess flour from the dough strips before frying them – too much flour will burn in your oil and make it unuseable much sooner. Fry the dough until it is golden – this will be a matter of seconds. I like to take the spider and roll them around in the oil, so all the sides turn golden. Remove with the spider and place on paper towels to drain and cool. Repeat with remaining dough.
When the dough has all been fried, dust generously with powdered sugar. You can also add a little honey if you like, but I think it makes them a little too sweet. They last for several days at room temperature.