When most people hear the word arancini, they think of Sicily's famous rice balls stuffed with meat ragu, crumbed, and deep fried. Less known are these special pastries from central Italy's Le Marche region. Both specialties get their name from arancia, Italian for orange; the former because of their round shape and golden color, the latter because of the intensely perfumed orange sugar that's rolled inside the sweet dough of these pastries.
The region of Le Marche is known for these Arancini di Carnevale, a rich egg and milk-filled dough rolled up with orange zest and sugar (there is also a lemon version known as limoncini) and, traditionally, deep fried. More and more, you'll find this treat baked instead of fried (even Italians are health conscious). When baked, the pastries hold their shape better and you get a lovely, caramelized bottom from the melted sugar. Frying is a good option, too, though: The pastries will be fluffier and crispier all at the same time.
Eat them as they are or coat them with a dusting of confectioners' sugar or a dose of warm, runny honey. If you are after something a little sweeter, you could also add some orange marmalade to the orange-sugar filling, or, for a slightly more substantial frangipane-like filling, almond meal.
The recipe below was greatly inspired by one posted in Italian here: http://www.ricettedellanonna.net/arancini-di-carnevale/ —Emiko
2 1/2 teaspoons
(7 grams) instant dry yeast (many packages of dry yeast are already in this measurement but check as brands can differ)
Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and set aside.
In a wide bowl, combine the flour with 1/4 cup (50 grams) of the sugar. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the yeast mixture, the melted butter, the eggs, and the vanilla. Mix until well combined and the dough comes together. Knead a few minutes longer, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the ball of dough back in the bowl and let rise, covered with a tea towel or plastic wrap, until risen and doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the freshly grated orange zest with the remaining 1 cup of sugar, and rub the mixture between your fingers until well combined and perfumed.
Roll out the dough on a large, lightly floured surface in a rectangle, no more than 1/4 inch or 5mm thick (you may wish to divide the dough in 2 portions and roll 2 of these separately if you are short on space).
Scatter the orange-sugar over the dough in a thin layer to cover the surface, leaving an inch border. Brush a bit of water around the entire edge of the dough to help it close properly and, from the long side, roll tightly into a log. With a sharp, heavy knife, cut the log into 1/3-inch-thick slices, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
Allow the pastries to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 20 minutes, until the pastries are golden. You can flip them over halfway through if you want a sticky, caramelized type of pastry. Alternatively (and traditionally), you can deep fry these in plenty of vegetable oil (so that they float) until golden brown -- they will have a slightly different appearance but they come out fluffier and softer in the middle.
You can serve them as they are (they are best the day they are made), or cover them in a dusting of confectioners' sugar or warmed honey.
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.