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You ask, what could be more decadent, and I say absolutely nothing. Cartellate are traditionally made during Christmas. They are traditional Pulgiese fried pastries filled with roasted almonds, honey, spices and chocolate.
Apuglia is a peninsula that forms the heel of the “boot” of Italy and has had many conquerors. The Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins, Argonese, Spanish, the German emperors, Burbons, Turks, Venetians and more. Referred to as a melting pot – each left their mark on the region. You can see the influences in the clusters of white stucco flat roofed dwellings. But the influences of these cultures are also evident in the food and none more then Cartellate.
I have eaten many Cartellate in Puglia. I can honestly say my aunt’s recipe is the best. She came from Peschici, Foggia and called them “Cluster”. Cartellate is dough mixed with wine, formed into a wagon wheel shape and fried. The pockets in the wheel are the receptacles for honey or mosto cotto (a syrup made from fruits or grape skins), spices, nuts and chocolate.
The Cluster I have had in Puglia are delicious and the syrup is mostly made with honey or mosto cotto mixed with lemon zest and walnuts. Some have no nuts and might have a sent of cinnamon. My aunt Rafaela filled hers with roasted almonds, chocolate, spices both cinnamon and clove melted in honey. The combination is positively addicting.
In earlier times my family only made them at Christmas, but as time passed and the love of cartellate overtook us, we began to make them the star of our Thanksgiving desserts. They were never included in the “Torta di Biscotto di Nozze” trays for weddings as they are usually dripping with honey, but today we also make a separate tray of cartellate for weddings.
These cookies are a labor of love and not easy to make, but the good news is that you can place the shells in a brown paper bag and keep some for Christmas. I make the filling and store it in a glass container so that they are ready to fill and take center stage with the rest of our Christmas biscotti. The only problem is that having them around until Christmas challenges your will power.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 5 minutes each
Yield: 30 Cookies
2 1/2 lbs. flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
1 jigger of Sherry or Marsala
Tepid water to mix
1 quart Canola or peanut oil
48 oz. honey
1 lb. roasted almonds, cut in half
12 lb. dark chocolate chips, good quality
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cloves, or to taste
Put all the dry ingredients together in a bowl or on a board, and make a well in the middle. Put in the shortening, eggs, Sherry or Marsala and, if needed a little warm water. Mix until you are able to form a ball. Knead until the dough is smooth and place it in the refrigerator for about 1 hour covered with plastic wrap. You can also mix the dough in a food processor but add the almonds in by hand.
If you have a pasta machine, you can roll out the dough to its second to the last level, or you may roll out a piece with a rolling pin as thinly as possible. Using a pastry cutter with a fluted edge, cut strips out about 2” wide and 8” long. Holding the dough at one end, begin to pinch the dough about 3/4 inch apart, creating small pockets along the strip. Bring the dough around from one end crimping the dough together pinching it along the strip to form a circle. These pockets will hold the filling. The cookie looks like a cartwheel, which is the definition of “Cartellate” The cluster cookie should be about 4” round; however they can be made whatever size you want them to be.
Secure the ends with a toothpick so that they will not unravel during frying. You can keep them overnight and fry them the next day. This is important because you don’t want them to puff up too much closing the pockets during frying. Otherwise they will need at least 4 hours drying time.
Fry a few at a time in hot oil. Remove when they turn a deep golden color. Allow the shells to drain on paper towels or on a rack. Remove the toothpicks and fill them or place them in a paper bag or box until you are ready to fill them.
To make the filling, melt all of the ingredients together in a saucepan, taste for seasoning and place in the refrigerator. The filling will get hard, but will stay in the shells better if somewhat cool.
Start by placing a tablespoon of filling in each cluster cookie. When this step has been completed, go back and keep filling each cookie until you have used all the filling.
The filled cookies will stay a week or more. If you want to make the cookies in advance, place them in a paper bag and they will stay for several days to a month. Never store them in a sealed container or wrap them with plastic wrap.