Gabriella’s Calcionelli

Makes 5 dozen

Gabriella’s Calcionelli

My mother’s calcionelli were not my favorite Christmas cookie when I was a child. The fried half-moons of dough filled with honey-coated nuts and scented with citrus zest, are a specialty of Italy’s Abruzzo region. But they held little allure for my pint-sized Americanized palate. I much preferred the spicy, thick-cut gingerbread cookies and crisp sugar cookies that she also made, and which my sister and I binged with abandon (we went through lots of icing and silver dragées).

Still, my mother made the calcionelli faithfully every Christmas morning, frying them in batches and carrying plates of them into the living room, where she and my father popped one after another into their mouths while my sister and I attacked our presents. I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing that as she stood there at the stove at our house in suburban New Jersey, my mom was transported by the aroma of toasted nuts, honey and orange zest right back to her own childhood Christmases in the Italian hilltop city of Chieti.

At some point the pendulum swung, of course. I stopped avoiding those crescents on the cookie plate, and started devouring them instead. Eventually I realized that I wasn’t eating them just to participate in one of my mother’s beloved Christmas traditions, which she had taken such care to preserve over the years; I actually liked them. Now, of course, it is not Christmas without them.

Ingredients

  • For sweet pasta dough

  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons dark rum, Cointreau or Grand Marnier

  • Walnut filling

  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup wildflower honey

  • For the almond filling

  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup wildflower honey

  • Vegetable oil for frying

  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Instructions

To make dough: In a food processor, put flour, sugar, salt and lemon and orange zests and pulse briefly to combine. Scatter butter over flour mixture and pulse until incorporated and mixture is crumbly. Add eggs and pulse briefly, just until they are incorporated. With motor running, dribble in liqueur, adding just enough for mixture to begin to come together in a rough mass.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead briefly until smooth ball forms. Dough should be soft and tender, but not sticky. If sticky, add additional sprinkle or 2 of flour and lightly knead until incorporated. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight. Bring dough to slightly cooler than room temperature before using.

To make walnut filling: In a food processor, pulse walnut halves until coarsely ground. Add lemon zest and process until mixture is finely ground. In nonstick frying pan, warm honey over medium heat. When honey has melted and is loose, stir in ground walnuts. Use a silicone spatula to combine walnuts and honey thoroughly. Remove from heat and scrape mixture into a bowl. Set aside. Wipe frying pan clean.

To make almond filling: In a food processor, pulse almonds until coarsely ground. Add lemon and orange zests and process until mixture is finely ground In nonstick frying pan, warm honey over medium heat. When honey has melted and is loose, stir in ground almonds. Use a silicone spatula to combine almonds and honey thoroughly. Remove from heat and scrape mixture into a bowl. Set aside.

Dust 2 rimmed baking sheets with flour. Have on hand a 2 3/4-inch round cookie cutter for cutting out the calcionelli, a small bowl or glass of water and a fork for sealing them.

Cut dough in half and rewrap half. Place other half on work surface lightly dusted with flour. Roll out into large thin circle about 1/16-inch thick. Using the cookie cutter, cut out as many circles as possible. Mound a scant teaspoon of filling in the center of each dough circle. Dip a finger in water and moisten border of each circle. Fold each circle into half-moon. Using the fork, press along open edge of each half-moon to seal securely. Transfer calcionelli to flour-dusted baking sheet. Gather dough scraps and reroll once to make additional calcionelli. You should end up with about 30 calcionelli.

Roll out remaining dough piece and cut out circles the same way. Fill with the almond filling, then fold and seal them as you did the others and transfer to a baking sheet.

In a large deep frying pan, pour vegetable oil to a depth of at least 1 inch, place over medium-high heat and heat to about 375 F on a deep-frying thermometer. Place large rimmed baking sheet lined with a double layer of paper towels or a plain brown paper bag near the stove.

When oil is ready, gently drop in 6 to 8 calcionelli, taking care not to crowd the pan. They will begin to brown on the bottom almost immediately. Turn them with a fork and let the other side brown briefly. Using a large skimmer or slotted spoon, remove the calcionelli to paper towel-lined baking sheet. Once they have cooled slightly, transfer to a decorative serving platter. Fry the remaining calcionelli in the same way.

Dust calcionelli with a generous shower of confectioners’ sugar and serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers will keep in a tightly covered container at room temperature up to 5 days.

20 Responses to Gabriella’s Calcionelli

  1. Ciao Chow Linda December 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Domenica – You’re bringing back memories of a cookie my Abruzzese mother-in-law used to make. She called them “calzoncelli” and filled them with a chick peas and chocolate mixture. I have to say, I think I would enjoy your mixture even more.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti December 10, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Ciao Linda! I’m so glad you found the site. I think it’s right up your alley. Yes ~ your MIL’s cookies sound similar to my mom’s. I am guessing there are many variations on this theme. The chick pean and chocolate filling sounds so intriguing to me, but not at all out of place in Abruzzo. I wonder if you have a recipe to share?

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. I’d love for you to join the AFR community if you haven’t already!

      • Darren December 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

        I’m fascinated by the chick pea and chocolate combination! Is this something commonly found in that region?

        • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
          Domenica Marchetti December 18, 2012 at 8:08 am #

          Thanks for your comment Darren. Yes ~ a mixture of pureed chickpeas, chocolate, orange zest and spices is another traditional filling for calcionelli, typically found in Abruzzo and also Puglia. Chestnut is another traditional filling. I have to admit I’ve never had the chickpea version eitiher.

    • Paola March 26, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

      We make the cavicionette with the chick pea, cocoa and walnut filling. OMG they are so good especially a few days later when all the flavors marry!

      • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
        Domenica Marchetti March 26, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

        I love the combination of cocoa and walnuts. I make a similar filling for celli ripieni ~ another Abruzzese Christmas cookie that also contains grape jam. I haven’t made the chick pea filling, though I know it’s traditional. Thanks for your comment Paola.

  2. Profile photo of Michele Kayal
    Michele Kayal December 18, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Domenica, would the chickpeas turn our like marzipan? I’m having trouble imagining the texture.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti December 22, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      That’s a good question, Michele. I’m not sure what the texture would be, though I don’t think it would be quite like marzipan. I imagine it to be more like a chestnut puree. Curious now!

    • Paola March 26, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      The texture is very creamy, after you cook the chickpeas you pass them in the food mill.

      • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
        Domenica Marchetti March 26, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

        Thanks for answering this question Paola. I had been wondering. Next Christmas I have to make the chick pea filling.

  3. Profile photo of Eddie Ribo
    Eddie Ribo December 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Sounds delicious!! My mom would make something she called calzongeri, which were similarly made, but filled in addition to the nuts and fruit zests , with dates, figs, raisins and a little chocolate which was all cooked and ground into a paste to be filled into the pastry half moons then fried. She would drizzle a little dark colored syrup over them. She was from Bari region.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti December 22, 2012 at 9:26 am #

      Eddie, your mom’s version sounds delicious. My mother would sometimes put chocolate in her fillings, but I don’t remember dates or figs or raisins. There are probably countless filling combinations. I’d like to do more sleuthing on this. I’ve also seen variations on the name of the cookie. My mom calls them calcionelli, but I’ve also seen calzoncelli, calzonetti and now your calzongeri. All of those names are diminutives of the word ‘calzone’.

      Cheers and thanks for reading.

  4. Profile photo of
    elisa February 18, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    CALCIONETTI
    (Italian Chick Pea-Chocolate Nut Filled Fried Cookies)
    Makes 20 cookies

    FOR THE DOUGH:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup powdered sugar
    Pinch salt
    2 tablespoons shortening
    2 eggs
    1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
    FOR THE FILLING:
    1/2 cup chick peas, cooked
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    2 tablespoons honey
    2 tablespoons grated chocolate
    1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
    FOR THE PREPARATION:
    Vegetable oil, to fry
    1/4 cup milk, to seal dough
    Powdered sugar, to dust cookies

    TO MAKE THE DOUGH:
    Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Mix in shortening using hands or pastry cutter until crumbly. Add eggs and lemon zest. Mix until just incorporated.

    Use pasta machine to roll out half the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and forming a long rectangular shape (roughly 15 inches by 3 inches), being careful not to overwork dough. Repeat with other half of dough. Set aside.

    Preheat vegetable oil to 360 degrees.

    TO MAKE THE FILLING:
    Use fork to mash chickpeas thoroughly. Stir in brown sugar, honey, grated chocolate, and chopped walnuts. Drop heaping teaspoonfuls of filling along length of rectangular dough (leaving 1-inch between spoonfuls) keeping to one side. This should be enough room for about 10 spoonfuls.

    TO SHAPE AND COOK:
    With pastry brush use milk to moisten area around each filling spoonful. Fold dough lengthwise over filling and press down to remove any air and to seal edges.

    With a fluted pastry cutter or pizza cutter, cut into squares to form individual cookies. Repeat procedure with remaining filling and dough.

    Fry cookies in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Remove and place on paper towels to drain excess oil.

    Dust with powdered sugar. Serve the same day.

    The Cagionetti, also known as calgionetti, caggiunitt’ and caggionetti, are most commonly called Calcionetti outside the region of Abruzzo, where the stuffed cookies are traditionally made during Christmas.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti February 18, 2013 at 10:38 am #

      Elisa, thank you for this contribution. I have been wanting to try a version made with chick peas, as I have never had it before. My mother used to occasionally make a chocolate and nut filling that sounds similar to yours, but without the chick peas. I’m looking forward to trying this.

      • elisa February 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

        Domenica I also have the recipe with the chestnut filling, which in Abruzzo is said to be THE recipe for calcionetti. It is in Italian. If you wish I will contribute it anyway.

        • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
          Domenica Marchetti December 5, 2013 at 11:22 am #

          Ciao Elisa,
          It looks like there are a couple of us at least who are interested in your recipe for the chestnut filling, if you are still interested in contributing it. Grazie!

  5. Teresa Rinaldi December 3, 2013 at 11:54 pm #

    Elisa I would live to have the chestnut recipe. That is the filling my mom used!

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti December 5, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      I second that Teresa ~ I’d like to have it as well, as I love chestnut puree.

  6. Tom Melchiorre December 19, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    These cookies are so good. I too am of Abruzzese heritage,Provinca de Chieti! All of these versions are great. In these modern times I have used Lady fingers put through a blender as a replacement for chic peas. More American for my “Americanized” children and friends. We call them calgionetti.
    This made be a sacrilege but with so many people concerned with fried foods I have baked them in long logs and sliced like biscotti and covered with powdered sugar. I have also made the thin powdered sugar icing for them!
    Love the more traditional fried version but this Americanized version is good too!
    Bouna Natale.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti March 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

      Tom, I just saw this comment. Your idea of using lady fingers is so clever, as is your method of baking them in logs and slicing. That’s the sign of a good cook/baker. Thanks for sharing.

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