Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Trays with sweets typical of Venice Carnival: Frittelle, Galani e Castagnole
Today is Mardi Gras, which is the day of the year I traditionally spend sobbing in my pajamas because of homesickness. The reason? In Venice, today is the end of Carnevale ("Carnival" in English, if you seriously need a translation), my favorite celebration of all, and the one I miss the most since I've moved to the United States. Venice Carnival has been synonymous with great fun and great food since I was born. As a little girl, the fun consisted of wearing my chosen costume on multiple occasions—Venice Carnival lasts a little over two weeks—at school, on strolls around my town or in Venice, and at children's birthday parties. During each outing, us kids were allowed to throw confetti in each other's eyes and then litter the streets with colorful serpentine throws. To make things even more interesting, the right princess or pirate costume could grant you multiple fianc├ęs by the age of 9. As a teenager and then young adult, the fun was pretty much the same, but it happened at night and was quite a bit boozier.

Now let's talk about the food. During Carnival, bakeries and pastry shops in Venice and the rest of the Veneto region start churning out an avalanche of amazing fried sweets, namely frittelle, galani, and castagnole. Venetians of all ages stuff their faces with these beloved sweets at all hours of the day. Let's see them in detail:

  • Frittelle are little sweet and soft doughnuts with raisins and pine nuts and sometimes filled with crema pasticcera (pastry cream) or zabaione, and dusted in granulated or powdered sugar. They are the Holy Grail of Venice Carnival foods.
  • Galani are paper-thin rectangles of lightly sweetened dough, deep-fried and dusted with powdered sugar.
  • Castagnole are small round fried cookies very similar to shortbread. For some reason, they are the least popular among Carnival sweets, even though they are completely delicious in their own right. I am afraid they are unfairly obscured by their high-performing cousins (a phenomenon I will now call "Unfair Eclipse Syndrome").

To lessen my desperate homesickness and to share a little of the joy of Venice Carnival with my insatiable children, a couple of years ago Mr Bee and I started to make all these sweets at home with acceptable results. This year, however, we knocked one out of the proverbial ballpark by finally landing two perfect recipes for frittelle and galani that I want to share with you today. Get a Carnival mask on, hang some streamers around your house, gather friends and love interests, and deep-fry these gems: This is the closest you're going to get to my beloved Venice Carnival.

You can read more information about the history of Venice Carnival in this post I wrote for Multicultural Kid Blogs

Venetian Carival Frittelle, with and without custard filling


Makes 20–25 frittelle. Just remember crema is optional: Frittelle are amazing on their own.
Ingredients for crema pasticcera (pastry cream)
1/2 quart of milk (I would not use non-fat here)
lemon rind of half a lemon, cut in one piece (use a vegetable peeler)
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

Ingredients for frittelle

oil for frying
1 ¼ cups water
pinch of salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp sugar (that's right)
1 ½ cups flour
6 eggs
orange rind (grated)
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup raisins
¼ pine nuts
oil for frying
granulated or powdered sugar for coating


Make the crema pasticcera
  • Pour the milk in a saucepan, add the lemon rind, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • In a bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the sugar together until pale yellow and fluffy.
  • Add the cornstarch to the egg mixture and stir together.
  • Remove the lemon rind from the milk, and pour the milk slowly into the egg mixture, stirring to prevent clumps.
  • Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and let it thicken on low-medium heat until it reaches a creamy consistency. The crema will continue to thicken, so leave it somewhat runny.
  • Let the crema cool down before using.

Make the frittelle
  • Place water, butter, salt, and sugar in a small pan and bring to a boil.
  • Add all the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a ball. This takes less than a minute.
  • Let the dough cool, then add one egg at a time. Make sure each egg is incorporated into the dough before adding another one. (I’d use a electric mixer here, if possible. Unless you enjoy the arm workout, of course.)
  • Mix in the the rest of the ingredients.
  • Heat oil to 370F degrees and fry the dough in small balls (use two spoons) for 5–6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked throughout. Note that frittelle will first puff a little and then puff up even more after a couple of minutes of more.
  • Roll frittelle into granulated sugar or dust with powdered sugar.
  • When cool, fill the frittelle with about a tablespoon of crema pasticcera each, depending on size. I used a whipped-cream syringe similar to this one but way crappier. If you don't have a syringe, I guess that you can cut the frittelle open and fill them with a tablespoon of cream.
*The usual optimal frying temperature is 375F, but that cooked our dough too quickly so it was burned on the outside and still raw on the inside. Five degrees made all the difference!

A tray filled with Venetian Carnival Galani


oil for frying

4 eggs
4 cups flour
2 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sparkling water
grated lemon rind from one lemon
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp grappa (optional)
2 tsp vanilla extract


  • Mix the flour, sugar, and butter together until coarsely combined. You might want to use an electric mixer for this part, otherwise use your hands and be quick.
  • Add the eggs, lemon rind, and salt, Grappa and vanilla and mix.
  • Add sparkling water as needed and a little at a time until the dough becomes soft and stretchy. It should resemble fresh pasta dough, if that helps.
  • Cover the dough and let it rest for an hour.
  • Roll out the dough with a roller (champion) or with a pasta machine, going up to the smallest setting so that galani are paper-thin. If you've never used a pasta machine before, check out these instructions.
  • Cut dough into large rectangles with a pasta cutter. (Parents of young children: I couldn't find mine once so I used a Play-doh cutter.) Rectangles should be about 2x4'', but can be VERY irregular, so don't worry too much about it. 
  • Place rectangles on a floured kitchen towel.
  • Fry the galani in 375 degree oil for a few seconds, or until slightly colored and puffed up. 
  • Let rest on paper towels and dust with powdered sugar. Galani last beautifully for 2–3 days in a dry climate.


  1. You forgot to mention shaving faom spayed in the hair!

  2. I forgot about that... Although I think here it's called "party string". I don't know if anybody tried to shave with that, but I bet it would be pretty funny.