Yes, You Should Deep-Fry Your Christmas Pastries (& Cover Them with Sprinkles)

December 20, 2016

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.

Those pockets are made for catching syrup. Photo by Emiko Davies

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.

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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).

Photo by Emiko Davies

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.

Tell us: Have you made cartellate before? Or a similar deep-fried, syrup-covered pastry?

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

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The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Marie December 31, 2019
My family has been making cartellate at Christmas for as long as I can remember but we call the pastry "sfogliatelle." I know what sfogliatelle is in the bakery and it's very different. I'm trying to find out why my family (from Salerno) call the cartellate-sfogliatelle. Except for the fact that the pastry is made into "strips" or "sfoglia" they are completely different.
Saori December 21, 2016
In Morocco, these are called choubakiya!
Wendy December 20, 2016
My Italian grandmother made these, but without wine. Inexplicably, she called them "scot galads." I've always wondered what Italian word or term this was.