By gina depalma

Sweet Fried Dough


Timing has never really been my thing, so it oddly makes sense that I’m here to tell you about a Tuscan carnival tradition just after Lent and Easter have passed. But it is never the wrong time for sweet, tasty, fried treats as far as I’m concerned. And in the local dialect of Pistoia they’re known as cenci.


Cenci are simply ribbons of an egg-y, soft dough that are deep fried until golden, showered with powdered sugar and eaten hot. They are prepared throughout Tuscany and in many other regions of Italy during the celebration of Carnevale.  Cenci means “rags,” and using a fluted pastry wheel to cut them supposedly gives the effect of tattered rags. There are numerous pseudonyms for this crispy treat:  frappe or frappole (fringes), zacarette (shavings), and nastrini (ribbons) are just a few. My favorite has to be chiacchiere della nonna, or, grandmother’s chatter.  Go and figure that one out. No matter the moniker they are traditionally enjoyed in Tuscany with a glass of local vin santo or a dip into some vin cotto.


There aren’t a lot of rules to follow for great frying, nor is there any particularly fancy equipment to buy.  All you need is a heavy, deep pot and a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil. A Chinese skimmer with a wooden handle is handy for removing delicate foods from the oil and onto paper towels.  Never crowd the pan when frying; it will cause the temperature of the oil to drop, your foods will absorb too much oil and become greasy, especially doughy items like doughnuts and fritters.


Don’t worry about the timing, friends. In my family, we always enjoyed fried dough at any holiday or family gathering. Just eat them hot and crispy and remember to give a nod to the Tuscan grandmothers who chattered away, cut the ribbons and tore the rags.


1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

3 large eggs

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 oz.) unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Olive Oil for frying

About ½ cup additional flour for kneading

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting