As a child, I knew it was Christmas time, when my mom and my aunts got together to spend all day making this regional specialty from Puglia, a fried "cookie" coated in honey, called Cartedatte. They are sometimes called the "dahlias of Saint Nicholas" because of their color and shape and also their association with the nuns of the hospice for pilgrims of Saint Nicholas of Bari. At one time honey was expensive and not always available, so cooks used a syrup made from figs to drizzle over the cartedatte. (They are also called Cartellate in dialect.) I remember, Aunt Annie had a HUGE wooden board that covered her kitchen table, usually used for making and cutting pasta dough. They would dump about 10 pounds of flour on the table, make a well, and start working in wine and olive oil. Then when the dough was made, they would split into the various jobs of cutting, forming, and frying the cartedatte. This has been on my "bucket list " of things to try for years. I have a cousin named Palma in the Bronx, who says, "Cartedatte mean Christmas to me." This year I made some to send her.
I'm usually pretty good with dough. I know what different kinds of dough are supposed to feel like. For my first batch, I had five different recipes, 4 of them in Italian. I converted the grams to ounces (there's an app for that), and used one of the Italian recipes. The dough was VERY dry and hard to work with. I added a little more wine and olive oil. It finally came together, but still was hard to crimp. I continued through the whole recipe, but the final result was not what I was hoping for. They were almost a cracker consistency after frying. We began again, and the second batch turned out pretty close to mom's. Here are all the steps:
4 c. flour
1 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. olive oil
pinch of salt
1 T. sugar with cinnamon
1. Roll out the dough (we used 1, 2, and 3 on our pasta machine), and cut with a curly edge roller.
2. Take each strip, fold it in half, and crimp the edges every inch or so.
3. Roll into a rosette, leaving some of those pockets open for the honey to sit in later.
4. Take a break, as you will need to sit down at this point, and stop calling them "little f**kers".
5. Bring a large pan of oil (I used Canola) to 375 degrees, or use a deep fryer if you have one, and fry the cartedatte 2 or 3 at a time, just until golden (15-20 seconds).
Drain on a brown grocery bag. Open windows and turn on the fan in your kitchen!
6. At this point, the cartedatte will be dipped in one of three mixtures. As a child, I liked the honey best. My cousin, Palma remembers her mom making "cotto di fichi", so I made some of each. My family did both honey, and "vino cotto". I was thrilled when I found a bottle of vino cotto in a specialty food shop in Italy last summer, as I doubted I'd ever be boiling down gallons of wine and grape must as my mother did.
Honey: Melt 2 c. of honey with some lemon zest and cinnamon. Heat in a saucepan for several seconds to thin the honey and combine the flavors. While honey is still warm (not hot), dip the cartedatte in the pan to completely coat. Lift with a wire mesh spider or slotted spoon, onto a sheet of parchment paper. Top with sprinkles.
Vino Cotto Syrup: This is a thick, honey-like wine syrup of red wine boiled with sugar and reduced. It can be found in Italy, or there are recipes on the internet.
Fig Syrup: (Cotto di Fichi) I took my bottle of vino cotto, added some honey, sugar, and fig syrup until it looked and tasted right.
Here are the finished cartedatte with honey and fig syrup. It was an adventure, but I won't be making these again any time soon! I MAY try some struffoil for New Years!
I hope Palma enjoys her goodies! They are on their way!