Baked "Chiacchiere"- Italian Carnival Cookies- with Citrus Zests
I have always loved the name of these simple little cookies... and still have no idea where it originates from! "Chiacchiere", means "chat" in Italian- a strange name to give to a cookie, but it describes what I associate best with the thought of having a big plateful of these... sitting with friends, picking idly at these little crunchy snacks and having a good time!
Chiacchiere are made for carnival and are traditionally deep fried- another one of the many traditional sweets made for "Mardi Gras"- which translates from the French into "Fat Tuesday" the final day of the carnival period and a day of numerous fried and sweet treats, historically speaking. And as we are speaking right now- let's have a little talk about these "chatty" little cookies...
Traditionally, they are simply made of flour, egg, butter, a little grappa and a hint of lemon zest- then sprinkled with powdered sugar or drizzled with chocolate. Today I made them with the zest of a mandarin, lemon and lime to make them a little more fun and used a lemon liquor to make them even more fruity (I also happen to have designed the graphics for it- just sayin') :-)
Being as this was my first attempt, I made a small batch- and yes, these are rather lightweight cookies- so all it too to make a yield of between 30- 40, was 1 egg, 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of butter and the zest of half each of a lemon, lime and a mandarin orange. And a nice shot of that good lemon liquor of course ;-)
To make them, simply pour the flour into a bowl, add the sugar and zest, stir it together thoroughly and then form a well and add the egg. And a tiny pinch of salt and then pinch the flour into the egg little by little until it is all incorporated. Once you have gathered up all of the flour, work-in the butter too. It is very un-fussy stuff this- it will come together very easily- no problems! When it comes to baking- if I can do it- anyone can!
Once the dough is nice and smooth, pop it into the fridge for at least 15 minutes, but better still a half hour to rest- this will make it easier to roll out nice and thin. Looks pretty, doesn't it- with all those flecks of color?
After it has rested, roll out the dough to about the thickness of a credit-card... ok, well not quite THAT thin- but almost! Haha- just look at the pictures my friends and that should give you a rough idea. The dough should be thin... but not dangerously so!
Cut the dough into strips that are about the width of 2 fingers, using a pastry cutter with a fluted edge... that is the traditional way to do it- you can obviously just cut them straight too. Then cut your cookies from these strips, this time about the length of your finger. I cut mine on a slight diagonal... because that is the way my sister once showed me- but again. that is rather unimportant and you can cut them any way you wish.
The characteristic and fun part of shaping chiacchiere, is that you need to cut a slit down the middle of them and then "turn them inside out"- that is the best way I can describe it to you... hopefully the picture below will show you what I mean. You need to fold the dough back on itself and poke it through the slit you have just cut into it. Pull it through halfway and that's it. You just need to make a couple and you will soon get the knack of it- again... if I can do it- anyone can!
So there you have them- the little carnival cookies- all different sizes- which is how it should be... these are hand-made and should also look that way- don't obsess over them and try to get them all exactly the same- there's no fun in that!
The cookies now simply need to bake for between 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven, at around 375°F. just until they become golden brown... make sure to keep an eye on them as they are thin and really do not take long!
Again, traditionally these would be deep-fried, which is also fine and also delicious... but I always like to say that if you can do without frying... then do without frying!
After around 15 minutes, my chiacchiere looked like this- crispy dry and golden brown. Well, I say that, but they actually only really become crisp after they have cooled down completely... if you can wait that long! They also taste better after a little while, as the aroma of the zest comes through better after it has had a chance to "seep out" through the temperature of the baking and the molten butter, into the cookies. So... try to be patient!
There is not that much sugar in chiacchiere and that is the way they are meant to be- they are unspectacular little bits of nonsense to nibble on... the added sweetness comes from the powdered sugar, ore lightly drizzled chocolate, or icing, or honey that you may want to add... befor you can finally enjoy them!
So, these were my finished chiacchiere- the first I have ever made, very simple, very nice... and also very quickly eaten up by me!
Have fun if you try them out- like I said- not being fried makes them a lot less fattening than regular cookies, their small size makes it easier to not overdo it when eating them... and... No. Actually- forget that last thing. You may very well overdo it when eating them! So... just make a few more and make it more worthwhile! :-)