It's not because recipe below is 'traditional Christmas dessert in Puglia and Basilicata' that it's too late to share this first excerpt from Southern Italian Desserts, Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily (Ten Speed Press, 2013) by Rosetta Costantino with Jennie Schacht.
Cartellate, Fried pastry rosettes bathed in mosto cotto
Makes about 20 Cartellate
Cartellate or carteddate is the traditional Christmas dessert in Puglia and Basilicata, made by rolling dough until it is very thin and forming it into fluted rings with small pockets, then frying and coating them in mosto cotto or honey. I could find no consistent story about the name, but some believe the shape is meant to represent the halo around the baby Jesus or the swaddling cloth used to wrap him, while others contend that it mimics the crown of thorns placed atop his head at his crucifixion.
There are as many variations of the dough as there are families in Puglia, with some adding only wine and oil to the flour, others incorporating water or an egg, and some including a bit of sugar. One thing on which all in Puglia agree: The fried dough must be thin and crispy.
Traditionally, the fried sweets were bathed in warm vino cotto or mosto cotto (page 197) or with cotto di fichi (fig syrup, similar to miele di fichi, page 198). Nowadays, honey often takes their place, as many have abandoned making these syrups at home. Some people will sprinkle cinnamon or confectioners’ sugar over the cookies, or top them with chopped toasted walnuts, almonds, or multicolor sprinkles. My preference: a simple coating of mosto cotto.
2 cups (264 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) white wine
1 large egg
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
11/2 to 2 cups (360 to 480 ml) mosto cotto (page 197) or honey, for coating
Chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
Rainbow diavoletti (sprinkles) (optional)
Stir the flour and sugar with a fork in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the wine, egg, and oil. Mix the wet ingredients with the fork, then begin incorporating the flour mixture until it is completely incorporated. Finish the mixing using your hands.
Transfer the dough to a flat surface and knead for several minutes to form a smooth, elastic dough that springs back when you poke it with your finger. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for
To form the cartellate, line a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel. Divide the dough into six pieces. Working with one piece at a time and leaving the others covered to avoid drying the dough, roll the dough with a pasta machine. Flatten the piece of dough and run it through the machine at the widest setting, then fold it in half and run it through again at the same setting. Continue to run the dough through the machine (without folding) twice at each setting until you reach the setting before last (#6 on my Atlas pasta machine). Roll the dough only once at the second-to-last setting. It should be about 1/16 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a flat surface and trim it with a fluted cutter into a 12-inch by 4-inch rectangle. (Alternatively, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a 12-inch by 4-inch rectangle about 1/16 inch thick.) Cut the dough the long way with the fluted cutter into three strips, each 11/4 inches wide. (Collect and cover scraps as you go to make additional cartellate.)
Pick up one of the strips and, starting about an inch from one end, pull up the two sides as if you were folding the dough in half the long way and pinch them tightly together. Continue to pull up and tightly pinch the dough at about 1-inch intervals to form about six little pockets along the length of the dough, leaving the ends open. To form the rosette, starting at one end, pick up the dough and wrap it around to meet the strip between the first and second pockets; pinch to attach. This will form the center of the rosette. Now, working from the opposite end, bring the strip all the way around to encircle the first fold; pinch to attach, then continue to wrap and pinch to form a spiral, or rosette, taking care to leave the pockets open. Some leave the end open while others pinch it closed; either will work. Move the rosette to one end of the baking sheet. Continue to form the rosettes until you have used all of the dough, including the last piece made up of scraps. (If you need additional work space, lay a kitchen towel on a flat surface as a work area.) Let the rosettes dry, uncovered, for at least 2 hours, or up to 8 hours.
To fry the cartellate, have ready a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, wide (4- to 6-quart) saucepan over medium-high heat to 375°F (190°C). When it is ready, use a metal skimmer or large slotted spoon to carefully transfer the rosettes to the oil, three or four at a time to avoid crowding them. Use the skimmer to keep turning and pushing the rosettes down into the oil until they are golden all over, 2 to 3 minutes. As they are ready, transfer the rosettes to the baking sheet, inverting them over the pot of oil before transferring them to allow the oil to drain from the pockets. Continue until you have fried all of the rosettes.
To coat the cartellate, pour 1/2 inch of mosto cotto or honey into a large skillet and warm it over medium heat just until it flows. Remove from the heat and place three to five rosettes into the syrup, or as many as can easily fit in a single layer. Use a spoon to baste the rosettes with the syrup, turning them over to generously cover all sides. The pockets will fill as you baste, but before removing them from the pan, invert the cartellate to let most of the syrup drain from the pockets. Transfer the cartellate right side up to a serving platter as you finish them. Continue to coat the remaining pastries. Sprinkle the tops with chopped nuts or diavoletti if you wish, then let cool completely.
Serve the cartellate at room temperature, storing leftovers, uncovered, for up to 24 hours.
Mosto Cotto or Vino Cotto, Grape must or Wine syrup
Makes about 3 cups (720 ml) | Gluten Free
Before sugar was widely available in Southern Italy, most families made their own sweetener by cooking grape must—the freshly pressed juice of wine grapes—into a thick syrup that added complex flavor as well as sweetness to their desserts. Because it is time consuming and expensive to produce, it is now difficult to find, even in Italy. Mosto cotto is sometimes incorrectly labeled as vino cotto, a similar syrup made from wine. In some regions of Italy, mosto cotto is known as sapa.
Whether made from grape must or wine, the syrup is thick and pourable, with flavors of fig, raisin, caramel, and spice, depending on the grapes used. It is perfect for drizzling over ice cream, fruit, or cheese, or for using in desserts, as is common throughout Southern Italy. Before the days of commercial ice cream, when fresh snow fell, Calabrians would pack it into a cup and drizzle it with the syrup for a treat known as scirobetta.
I make mosto cotto once a year, when we press grapes for making wine, and use it all year round. This recipe should leave you with enough for your own use, as well as some to package in small bottles to give as holiday gifts.
If you don’t have access to fresh grape must from ripe, super-sweet wine grapes, or to juice bottled by a winery with no additives, make vino cotto instead: Mix a (750-ml) bottle of a fruity red wine, such as zinfandel, with 1 cup granulated sugar and follow the method below to cook and reduce the syrup to about 1 cup.
91/2 cups (2.25 L) grape must
Strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer into a large (6- to 8-quart) soup pot. Bring the juice to a boil over medium heat, skimming away any foam with a metal skimmer or spoon. Reduce to a lively simmer and cook, occasionally skimming off the foam, until dark amber and syrupy, about 21/2 hours, reducing the heat and watching carefully toward the end to avoid scorching. Cool the syrup completely.
Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer, then use a funnel to decant it into sterile bottles and seal. Store the mosto cotto in a cool, dark pantry, or refrigerate, for up to 1 year.
(* Reprinted with permission from Southern Italian Desserts ' Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily' by Rosetta Costantino with Jennie Schacht -Ten Speed Press, © 2013- Photo Credit: Sara Remington.)