One of the many things I’m missing about Rome is the pasticcerie – pastry bakeries, patisseries. Our old neighbourhood alone had four within about a hundred metres of each other, all independent, selling wonderful selections of handmade pastries. And what made these places a particular joy – for a baked goods geek like me – was watching their wares change over the seasons.
Particularly fun was the period of Carnevale, equivalent to our word carnival, and from the Latin to “take the meat away”. That is, stop eating meat for Lent, the period of Christian abstinence before Easter. In the Roman pasticcerie, Carnevale seemed to start pretty much immediately after Christmas and was heralded by the appearance of frappe and castagnole. For the two Carnevales we were in Rome, we indulged in these goodies extensively (check out here, here and here).
I never tried making them though – there was little incentive when they were easily available. But now I’m home in Blighty, where proper handmade pastries aren’t quite so readily available. Plus, I was browsing Diana Henry’s book Roast Figs Sugar Snow and found her recipe for bugne – which are pretty much identical to frappe but from Lyon, France and take their name from the word beignet, another kind of sweet, dough fritter variable.
Bugne and frappe are simply deep-fried pieces of enriched, sweetened pastry or pasta dough* served dusted with icing sugar. Indeed, good ol’ Wikipedia – the dream of the internet incarnate – lumps bugne and frappe and may other similar international treats under the entry for “Angel wings”, which is presumably the US American English term, as I’ve not heard it in British English.
For me they’ll always be frappe as that was the name used in Rome, but even Italian has several other names for them, including cenci (“rags”) and chiacchiere (“chit-chat”).
So anyway, it’s technically Lent now, so I should have done this recipe a few weeks ago. But, well, I’m not religious and I just felt like some. Apologies to any devout Catholics who treat their seasonal gluttony proper seriously.
250g plain flour
1/2 t baking powder
30g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Zest of half a lemon
25g butter, melted and cooled
1/2 t vanilla essence
1/2 T of liquor – grappa, brandy, rum, or whatever depending on your inclinations and what’s in your cabinet. We didn’t really have anything so I added a dash of vodka.
Oil for deep-frying (sunflower or similar)
Icing sugar for dusting
1. Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl.
2. Add the pinch of salt.
3. Add the sugar and lemon zest.
4. Lightly beat together the eggs, add the vanilla essence and liquor.
5. I could say “make a well in the centre….” but I’m not convinced you really need to worry about that unless you’re working directly on a work surface so simply add the egg mix into the flour mix.
6. Likewise add the melted butter.
7. Bring together a dough. (You could do all this in a food processor, like making short-crust pastry, or in a mixer.)
8. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth and well integrated.
9. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest for at least half an hour in a cool, draught-free place.
10. Pin out the dough to about 1mm thick, maximum 2mm. You want them thin so they cook through and crisp up evenly. Ideally, roll it out with a pasta machine. We don’t have one.
11. Cut rectangles about 5 x 10cm. If you have one of those little pastry wheels that gives a crimpedety** cut, perfect.
12. Cut two slices within the rectangle. The difference between frappe and bugne is in the cut, nominally. With the bugne, you cut one slice and fold the piece of dough in on itself.
13. Heat the oil (to about 170C) then deep-fry the dough pieces a few at a time, until golden.
14. Take out and put on some kitchen paper to absorb some of the fat.
15. When cool, arrange on a plate and dust liberally with icing sugar.
16. Enjoy, perhaps with a nice rich cup of quality hot chocolate.
After our record winter rains, we had a warm, sunny, dry March, very much spring. But now it’s turned cool and wet again, so I think we can do a bit more hot chocolate drinking before it gets too balmy to really enjoy that most delightful of hot drink. Current hot chocolate of choice is still Montezuma’s Dark, but local coffee-grinders Jaju also sell a very fine Columbia hot chocolate.
I found it very hard to stop eating these last night. So it’s probably better if I don’t make them too frequently.
* This dish really highlights the fine line between pastry and pasta.
** I am aware this is not a real word.