These southern Italian cookies are called cartellate, and they're seriously addictive. They’re known by other names as well, including “crustoli” or “crostoli,” which is what my mother called them. She was from Emilia Romagna, a northern Italian region, but when she moved to the U.S. as a young war bride after marrying my father, much of her cooking reflected the southern Italian Calabrian roots of her in-laws.
The traditional topping is vincotto, which is a concentration of grape must (or mosto). Other recipes call for a fig syrup or honey. Mosto and fig syrup are hard to find in the U.S. My mom used honey which, topped with walnuts, is equally delicious.
My mother made these each year for Christmas and stored them in huge trays in the cold attic. My bedroom was a few steps away from the attic. I wonder if my mother ever realized how many cartellate were snitched from those tempting trays before they ever made it to the Christmas table.
As with most things in life, it's a lot more fun to have help when you're making these.
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening or butter
- 1 large egg
- 3 teaspoons sherry or white wine
- 1/2 cup warm water
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2 cups honey
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- Dash cinnamon
In a mixing bowl, place flour, salt and sugar. Add shortening, egg, sherry or white wine and water. Mix until a ball of dough forms. Knead for a few minutes, until dough is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Use a pasta machine to roll out each piece into thin (1 1/6-inch) strips (next to thinnest setting). Cut the strips into ribbons about 1 to 1 1/2inches wide and 6 to 7 inches long.
Pinch one end of a ribbon and then pinch all along the ribbon at 3/4-inch intervals, making little pockets. Roll the ribbon into a spiral by crimping it together along the strip to form a rosette. Use a little water if necessary to make the rosette adhere in the places where you pinch it.
In a deep pot or frying pan, add oil to a depth of 1 inch and heat over medium heat. Fry the cartellate in batches just until golden, 2 minutes at most. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate or cookie sheet.
In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the honey, walnuts and cinnamon over medium-low heat just until honey is warm and loose. Spoon warm honey mixture over the cartellate. Serve warm or at room temperature.