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.
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!
Recipe by Giulia Scappaticcio (adapted by Majella Home Cooking)
- 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!