Carnival’s “cenci”, the familiar cake in Florence
If you are in Florence and learning Italian, you’ll find that cenci generally means ‘rags’. “Cenci” are one of the mosty delicious pastry of Carnival.
Accept with grace the trays laden with crunchy ribbons of pastry heavily weighed down in extravagant mounds of mouth-watering zucchero a velo, or powdered sugar. Rough ribbons of dough, fried until crispy in olio di oliva extravergine, are then drenched in so much confectioner’s sugar that if you don’t get it on your clothes it will be a miracle. Once you take the plunge with your first bite you’ll throw caution to the wind and indulge yourself in the spirit of Carnevale and all it has to offer.
The origins of this Italian dessert come from the ancient Roma, perhaps from a family named Cenci.
I relate the name ‘rags’ to the look: these crunchy sweet treats do perhaps look like a pile of rags, with the dough cut with a ragged-edged pastry wheel, placed in an uneven way as pieces crossing over each other, deep-fried then powdered to perfection. Whatever the reason, they are certainly addictive. And for once in quite some time, I am giving you a recipe that is relatively easy to prepare.
A dough that puffs up unevenly when fried, and takes the powdered sugar in uneven spatters too, this is nothing special to look at. Watch out you don’t end up with a powdered sugar moustache when eating these rags, or love bows, or lettuces, or words – or just eat those lies!
250g white flour
50g powdered sugar
A pinch of salt
2 whole egg
Shot glass of Vin Santo
Zest of 1 lemon
30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
Extra powdered sugar to finish
What you need:
Wine bottle to roll out the pastry
Deep-fryer (or heavy-based pot for frying)
Wooden zigzag-edged pastry cutter
Sift together the flour and the first measure of powdered sugar, finely grate in the lemon zest. Break the eggs into the centre of the dry ingredients and pour over the Vin Santo and olive oil. Mix by hand into a smooth, firm dough.
Leave to rest 10 minutes in a warm place wrapped in cling film.
Place the dough on a floured surface and roll the dough out into an even 5mm layer using the wine bottle.
With the zigzag cutter, cut the entire layer of pastry into 4cm strips, then follow up by running the cutter down the middle of each strip, making sure to keep the ends of the wider ribbon connected! Pick up each ‘double strip’ by its top edge, twist around loosely and haphazardly with your fingers and promptly drop into hot olive oil.
Remove carefully from the oil once slightly golden and cooked, drain on absorbent paper and cover in sifted powdered sugar.