I love fried dough. I am my father’s daughter, and he was his mother’s son. My paternal grandmother, Angela Barra Crocetti, was not your prototypical nonna. She drove a white Cadillac and she wore Spring-o-lator shoes. But at the stove she rocked, just like a nonna should. Clack, clack, clack went those high-heeled shoes as she walked up the drive carrying a long flat box from Saks Fifth Avenue. Inside were those wonderful knots of dough, deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. She made them for her two sons as they grew up in their home in Steubenville, Ohio, and I can tell you with certainty that as much as I loved those cookies, my dad loved them even more. I can still see the smile on his face and the powdered sugar on his chest as we dipped into that box.
My cookie story is a cautionary tale. I remember that my grandmother used flour, sugar, eggs and milk. There was solid Crisco to fry and brown paper grocery bags to drain. But that is where her recipe ends and my story begins. She died without writing the recipe down. A few years ago I went about recreating her recipe, researching and working until I was satisfied.
To everyone out there - learn how the older ones make their food, their specialties. These recipes are part of who you are. Don’t let them fade from memory.
--Adri Barr Crocetti
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- Generous pinch of salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon grappa
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 to 4 tablespoons whole milk
- Peanut oil for frying
- Confectioner’s sugar
In a mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt. With mixer running add egg, butter, grappa and vanilla. Gradually add milk to form a soft malleable dough. Remove dough from bowl, pat into a disk and wrap in plastic. Set aside to rest for 1 hour.
Line a sheet pan with a tea towel and lightly dust with flour. Divide dough in 2 pieces, keeping the one you are not using wrapped in plastic. On a lightly floured board, roll dough to 1/16-inch thickness; dough should be almost translucent. Use a ravioli cutter or fluted pastry wheel to cut dough into ribbons 6 inches long and 1 inch wide. Tie a knot in the center of each ribbon, and place on the towel-lined pan in a single layer. Keep knots covered as you work.
In a deep-sided pan, heat a generous amount of oil to 350 F. Line a sheet pan with brown bags or paper towels. Fry knots, a few at a time, until they color, about 20 to 30 seconds. Don’t overcook or you will not taste the grappa. Remove with slotted spoon, and place on bags to drain. Sprinkle liberally with confectioner’s sugar. Crostoli are best eaten the day they are made.