La Cicerchiata

La Cicerchiata

Christmas is already a distant memory and Easter feels like a lifetime away.  However, sometimes you don’t need an occasion to prepare a special occasion dessert.  When my friend, Giulia Scappaticcio of Country House Casale Centurione in Manoppello, Abruzzo asked me to translate and convert her recipe for “la cicerchiata,” it seemed like a perfect project on this bitterly cold January day.

Giulia Cicerchia

This photo collage and the accompanying recipe is Giulia’s submission to a competition of regional Italian recipes sponsored by Instagramers Italia called L’Italia in Tavola. For those of you on Instagram, the handle is @italiaintavola.  Voting ends on January 31st. In bocca al lupo, Giulia!

A specialty of Abruzzo, la cicerchiata consists of tiny fried balls of dough rolled in honey, formed into rings, logs or individual clusters and decorated with colored sprinkles and slivered almonds and hazelnuts.  The dessert derives its name from la cicerchia, an ancient legume indigenous to Central Italy, because the shape of the individual pellets of dough resembles the beans. The nuggets are smaller and crunchier than Neapolitan struffoli and the texture reminds me of Sicilian pignolata.

The dessert is traditionally prepared for Easter, Christmas or Carnevale, but on this frigid Tuesday night, it took center stage on the dessert table at International Potluck Night at my kids’ school (hence, why you don’t see any nuts in my photo below).  Perhaps not a special occasion, but it was indeed a special treat to watch the kids happily pop those little nuggets into their sticky little mouths. Buon appetito!

My Cicerchiata

La Cicerchiata

La Cicerchiata

Recipe by Giulia Scappaticcio (adapted by Majella Home Cooking)

Serves 8

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp corn oil (or substitute canola oil as I did)
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for flouring the work surface)
  • Canola, sunflower or olive oil for frying
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Nonpareil sprinkles
  • Chopped hazelnuts and/or slivered almonds

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, oil, baking soda, salt and flour.  Mix all of the ingredients together until a dough forms (it should be the is consistency of “pasta frolla” or pastry dough).

Turn the mixture onto a floured board and knead until the dough is smooth and firm enough to handle, about one minute.  If the dough is too sticky, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, as needed.  Using your hands or a rolling pin (keep either lightly floured), roll out the dough to form a sheet (“la sfoglia”) that is about ½ – ¼ inch thick.  With a sharp, floured knife, cut the flattened dough into long strips, approximately ½ – ¼ inch wide and cut each strip into little squares, about ½ – ¼ inch in size.  Sprinkle the board and the cut pieces of dough with more flour and using the palm of your hands (keep them floured in order to avoid sticking), gently roll the dough squares back and forth to form round little nuggets that resemble “cicerchie” or “cecetti.”

Heat 3 inches of oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan until it is very hot (you can test a pellet of dough to see if the oil is hot enough).  Place the balls of dough in a fine-meshed sieve and gently shake the excess flour. Fry the nuggets in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pot.  They should be puffed and golden on all sides.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Have ready a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon liner.  After you have fried all of the dough, add the honey, pinch of cinnamon and nuts to a large sauté pan with high sides and heat it slowly over medium heat until it just comes to a boil.  Add the dough in batches, coating them completely with honey and roll them around with a silicon spatula for about two minutes.  (My mom’s trick to check whether the honey is ready: fill a little glass with cold water and drop a small dollop of the hot honey into it.  If the honey hardens at the bottom, then it’s ready.)  Remove the fried dough with a slotted spoon and pile them on the parchment-or-wax-paper-lined baking sheet to form a log or a ring.  (Wet your hands to help shape your cicerchiata).  Add the non-pareils and allow the cicerchiata to cool entirely prior to serving.  Very carefully transfer it to a serving tray using a flat pastry spatula.  Buon appetito!

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10 Responses to La Cicerchiata

  1. Frank @Memorie di Angelina January 29, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    Very interesting! They look to me just like the struffoli my grandmother used to make, but for the nuts and cinnamon. Will have to try these some day soon.

    • Majella Home Cooking February 6, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

      Yes, Frank, very close to struffoli, but slightly crunchier. The cinnamon and nuts are really a nice addition here. Let me know how it turns out!

  2. Louisa January 29, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    I saw these in the pasticceria windows when we were in Abruzzo for Christmas and I wondered what they were. They sound delicious!

    • Majella Home Cooking February 6, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

      They’re so easy to make, Louisa! You should try them out home. My little boys love them!

  3. Mario January 31, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Truly a favourite of mine as an Abruzzese kid growing up in Canada. My mom and all my relatives would make this sweet at various times of the year. Interesting it was one the only things my mom and dad would make together. I think it had to do with the frying of the little nuggat. In my adult years my mom would gives us a care package of goodies to take home. Sometimes La Cicerchiata never made it to my house!!!!

    Thank You for bringing back many great memories. I am salavating looking at the pictures and reading this article.


    • Majella Home Cooking February 6, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

      Grazie, Mario. I love them as well. They were a staple on my Sicilian side and am so happy to have this Abruzzese version in my arsenal. I hope you’ll try to make them!

  4. Ciao Chow Linda February 2, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    I’ll bet this was a big hit at your kids’ school Michelle. When I was in Scanno, I bought some jewelry called “cicerchiata” and it’s so named because it has little round bumps that resemble cicerchia, as you said. Are they the same thing as chick peas? It is very similar to “struffoli” as Frank said, and my friend from Salerno makes it every year for Christmas.

    • Majella Home Cooking February 6, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

      Thanks, Linda. Cicerchie are similar to chick peas in shape and texture (although I must admit that I prefer chock peas) but have a slightly flatter, more triangular shape. They are indigenous to central Italy and have nearly disappeared, but for the efforts of some cultivators who have brought them back to life.

  5. Adri February 5, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Lovely! See, this is my kind of food – fried dough. My husband often jokes that as far as MY food pyramid is concerned, fried dough ought to be included as a basic component!. I adore it, and this specialty always made an appearance in our home at Christmas. I have vivid recollections of my dad and my uncle, their eyes a twinkle over childhood memories, when we’d trot our version out from the kitchen. We fomed ours into a ring. I am always intrigued by family to family, town to town and further geographical differences. They are myriad.

    Your Cicerchiata is beautiful. What a terrific thing you have done for your Italian friend! I bet she was thrilled!

    • Majella Home Cooking February 6, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

      Adri, give me a fried sweet any day of the week! My Abruzzese side never made this dessert – it was my Sicilian grandmother that made a similar “pignolata.” I must say that the texture of Giulia’s recipe is terrific – crunchy, but not hard. I munched on them for days on end!

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