Last Updated on January 17, 2024 by Laura Teso
The most common Italian Carnevale sweets are Frittelle and Chiacchiere. But they’re’ not the only ones. As always, I’m going to list just the things that I’m familiar with. That’s because Italy is very fragmented regarding culinary traditions. So there are tons of foods that are only famous in a specific (and often) restricted area. Therefore in my post I will consider only the Carnevale sweets known at a national level (or local sweets that I know because they’re popular in my own area).
Italian frittelle and other Carnevale sweets
It seems that frittella dates back to Ancient Rome times. They are soft doughnuts, filled with raisins or different kinds of custards (plain, chocolate, zabaglione, pistachio, etc). We Italians eat them during certain festivities, mainly Carnevale.
They consist of a mix of flour, eggs, butter, vanilla, sugar, lemon zest, yeast, salt and sometimes liqueur, shaped into small balls and then fried in a pan until they become puffy and get a nice golden color. Finally you can sprinkle them with sugar.
Frittelle in Venice
There is evidence of the presence of frittelle in Venice since the time of Marco Polo. In the Casanatense National Library in Rome there’s a Venetian version of the frittella recipe dating back to 1300s, considered the oldest document of Venetian cuisine.
Venetians loved the frittelle (in Venetian dialect, frìtole) so much that at some point they proclaimed it “official sweet of the Serenissima Republic“. The frittelle sellers (fritoleri) used to prepare and sell frittelle in small kiosks scattered around the city. Think that in 1619 they were about 70.
They also sprinked them with sugar. For us it may seem normal. But it wasn’t common at that time. Venice was in fact the first city in Europe to use sugar instead of honey, thanks to the cane crops in their possessions, Cyprus and Crete. To admire a painting depicting a frittelle seller you can visit the beautiful Museum of Ca’ Rezzonico. Or you can see it here below. But I recommend visiting Ca’ Rezzonico anyway, because it’s surely worth it.
Nowadays in Venice during Carnevale time you can find frittelle in every pastry shop and with all kinds of fillings. But note that one of the most traditional kind is the one with apples in it.
Chiacchiere or Galani
Chiacchiere also date back to Ancient Rome. They are rectangles of fried dough sprinkled with icing sugar. I particularly love them. Yes, I’m part of the minority who prefers them to the more universally beloved frittelle.
Their name varies a lot, according to the different areas of Italy. They’re also called:
- Cenci (Toscana, Emilia-Romagna, Marche)
- Frappe (Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria)
- Bugie (Liguria, Piemonte)
- Cioffe (Abruzzo)
- Sfrappole (Romagna, Emilia-Romagna)
- Crostoli (Veneto, Friuli, Trentino)
But I’m sure there are also other names. Italy’s variety never ceases to surprise me.
Galani and crostoli in the Veneto
In my region, the Veneto, the name is galani. Galani are typical of the city of Venice and its lagoon. They are thin and ribbon-shaped. There’s also another similar sweet, called crostoli. They’re basically the same thing as galani (same dough) but with a thicker dough and a rather large rectangular shape.
Castagnole are round sweets, similar to frittelle, but smaller. Their name derives from castagna, Italian for chestnut, probably due to their shape and small dimensions. Like frittelle, castagnole’s main ingredients are eggs, flour, sugar and butter. They can be fried but are sometimes baked.
Castagnole also have a very ancient origin. In the state archive of Viterbo (Lazio) there is a manuscript dating back to the 18th century, which contains 4 different recipes for castagnole.
What is the main difference between castagnole and frittelle?
First of alla, castagnole are usually smaller. Furthermore, while frittelle are softer and hollow inside (so you can fill them), castagnole have a more compact consistency and no fillings.
The beautiful image below is by Pasticceria Max in Rome. Yummy!
Zeppole – another kind of Italian frittelle
I can’t help but quote Zeppole, which are another kind of sweet, quite common in central and southern Italy, that can be fried or baked. The problem is that, as often happens in Italy, there are several different kinds of zeppole. Every Italian region has its own version.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe
The most famous version is the Zeppola di San Giuseppe, typical of Apulia. It is bigger than a frittella, filled with custard and usually has a sour cherry on top. But there’s a but. This specific zeppola is usually not a Carnevale sweet. But by tradition it is prepared on March 19th, for the feast of San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph), which is also the Italian date of Fathers day. Since it is not at all a Venetian tradition, I must confess that I had personally never seen this particular sweet until a couple of years ago, when it started being prepared in my area too, thanks to some pastry chefs originally from the south of Italy. So it’s getting kind of popular also in my area. But not during Carnevale. And not as much as frittelle or galani.
Below Zeppole di San Giuseppe, photo by Ilares Riolfi via Flickr
So, which are your favorites? Italian frittelle, chiacchiere or other kinds of Carevale treats?