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It wouldn't be Christmas in Puglia if there weren't a stack of cartellate (also called carteddate). These deep-fried pastries, which are found from the top to the toe of Puglia (Italy's "heel"), are made of strips of citrus-perfumed dough, folded and pinched into series of pockets that then all wound into an arabesque rose shape. After frying, the golden pastries are bathed in a warm honey syrup or dark vincotto (a sort of grape syrup that's not only sweet but also tangy and pucker-worthy) or fig honey (similar to the vincotto but made from boiling down figs rather than grapes). Those little pockets catch and hold the syrup.
They taste decidedly decadent, but are only made with a handful of very basic ingredients: flour, wine, olive oil, and honey (or vincotto), and the perfume of some mandarin peel.
Cartellate are a truly age-old preparation in Puglia, with recognizable cartellate appearing in local frescoes that date back to the sixth century BC. This being said, their origins are a bit foggy. There's no denying drowning fried pastries in honey syrup is done everywhere from from the eastern Mediterranean to the Middle East. For example, Greek Xerotigana pastries look like cartellate's cousins, with nuts on top and Syrian Mshabak are fried arabesque shapes of batter (rather than pastry) doused in syrup or honey.
There's a different recipe or way of making cartellate in practically every household. Aside from the choice of syrup—honey, vincotto, or fig honey—some like to cover the finished pastries in colored sprinkles, while others choose ground cinnamon or forego the syrup entirely for a dusting of powdered sugar.
Although they are simple, cartellate do have many steps. It's typical for someone to make the pastry, someone else to roll out the pastry and cut them, another to fold and shape the cartellate, and yet another person to do the frying. Many hands make light work, especially if you're churning out large amount of these at a time (and you may as well make a large batch as these keep so well).
Once sufficiently soaked in their chosen liquid, the cartellate can be served immediately (though waiting a few hours is better), or they can be kept for weeks, with or without honey, if stored in an airtight container and kept in a cool, dark place. It's common to make a huge batch of cartellate for Christmas so that they'll last you until the Epiphany on January 6.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Lemon, mandarin or orange peel
- 3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) white wine (or dessert wine)
- Oil, for frying
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons water
Tell us: Have you made cartellate before? Or a similar deep-fried, syrup-covered pastry?