Crispy, crunchy, sugary crostoli are a sweet treat from the area around Venice in Northern Italy.
They are made from flour, egg and sugar and then the dough is rolled out very thinly and cut into strips before being deep fried in oil and getting a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar on top.
These delicious sweets are sold in bakeries and street food kiosks during the Mardi Gras carnival season, more or less the entire month of February, (depending on when Easter falls). They go hand-in-hand with happy costumed children running through the squares of small towns tossing confetti at each other as parades go by.
Crostoli are popular to make and eat in Central Italy and the rest of the country as well, where they go by different names such as cenci, frappe, bugie, galani, chiacchiere and many others depending on which town or city you happen to be in.
But beware, these carnival sweets are as delicious as they are messy- you will most likely end up covered in a fine dusting of powdered sugar before you’re done eating them!
Here is what you will need to make these crispy, golden sweets covered in icing sugar.
flat surface or cutting board
pasta machine (optional)
fryer or high-sided frying pan
fluted pastry roller
The whole process to make this crostoli recipe takes almost exactly one hour from start to finish, including rest time for the dough, and then they can be enjoyed right away with a generous amount of powdered sugar sprinkled all over them.
This crostoli recipe calls for basic dessert ingredients like flour, sugar, butter and egg, but you might be surprised to find grappa is a part of the recipe too!
All-purpose flour (300 grams) – we like to start out this recipe with sifted flour to avoid any lumps.
Granulate sugar (40 grams) – this sugar isn’t the star of the show like the powdered sugar, it is just used to make the crostoli slightly sweet. If you are planning to use crostoli as a savory treat you can skip it.
Salt (1 pinch) – just a little pinch is all you need.
Eggs (2 medium) – you can add them as lightly beaten eggs to mix with the rest of the ingredients.
Grappa (60 grams) – if you don’t have grappa you can substitute with another liquor like schnaps or rum. If you prefer to leave out the alcohol you can use the same amount of orange juice.
Unsalted butter (30 grams) – if at all possible, get unsalted because it works much better in this recipe. You can melt it in a bain-marie or in the microwave.
Milk (2 tablespoons) – the milk should be added only if the dough is too hard and needs to be softened a little bit with more liquid.
Lemon (1 large) – you will need the zest of one organic lemon rind. If you are skipping the liquor and using orange juice instead, you can substitute with another citrus zest like orange zest.
Vegetable oil (1 liter) – while our preference is for sunflower oil, you can also use peanut oil or another oil that is good for frying. Some people do fry in extra virgin olive oil but we don’t think it is worth the additional cost.
Powdered sugar (for garnish) – in Italy you can purchase vanilla flavored powdered sugar, something that is harder to find in the Unites States. Consider flavoring your confectioners sugar with a little vanilla or you can simply use regular icing sugar.
Step-by-step instructions for making crostoli
To prepare the dough, first add the dry ingredients of flour, white sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and make a hole in the center (photo 1).
Put the eggs, the melted butter and the grated lemon zest in the hole and stir together with a fork, starting from the center, to combine until creamy (photo 2).
Now add the grappa or other alcohol of your choice into the center and incorporate it using a fork.
When the dough is a little more solid, you can transfer it to clean work surface and knead it by hand, folding and pushing until it is homogeneous. If it’s too hard, you can add a very small amount of milk (up to 2 tablespoons).
Form it into a smooth ball, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (photo 4).
To roll out by hand: Divide into 5 parts, roll the dough out one piece at a time. On a well-floured flat surface, roll out one part with a rolling pin until the sheet becomes as paper-thin as possible (photo 5). Fold it onto itself and roll out again several times to get long straight strips as well as lots of bubbles when frying (photo 6).
To roll out with a pasta machine: Cut into five parts. Take one piece and flatten it with your hands to a length of about 10 to 12 cm. Now insert it into the machine set on medium (usually number 3 or 4) or even the widest setting and roll it through. Fold in half and put it through the machine again. You will then set the machine to either 1 or 2 (the thinnest settings) and put it through several times until the sheet is thin, nearly sheer.
To cut the shapes: Using a fluted pastry roller, cut along the edges of each sheet of pastry to make them even (photo 7) and then cut the dough into individual medium-sized rectangles (photo 8) (you can also cut on an angle). Place each even rectangle on a lightly floured cutting board or large plate spaced out so they don’t stick together. Some recipes say to cut a slit lengthways, in the middle of the crostoli, but this is optional.
To fry: Use a deep fryer or, if you prefer, a high-sided medium-sized saucepan. Fill it with the oil and heat over high or medium heat until it reaches a temperature of 175° C. You will know the oil temperature is right when you do a test to see if a small piece of dough begins to sizzle and fills with bubbles.
Start frying when the oil is ready and at the ideal temperature. You can cook in batches a few pieces at a time in the hot oil for 30 – 40 seconds per side. They will immediately puff and fill with air bubbles (photo 9). Remove the crostoli with a slotted spoon when they are golden but do not let them turn brown. Place them on a paper towel to remove excess oil (photo 10).
Finally, dust with a generous amount of powdered sugar and enjoy eating crostoli immediately.
Expert tips for the perfect crostoli
Do not let them brown. Crostoli, cenci or frappe… no matter what you call them, they are not supposed to be brown. Do not overcook the crostoli, they just need to be fried for a few seconds (about 30 second) on each side and then removed while a light golden white.
Add milk to dough. If your dough is too hard, add a little milk to soften it up and make it more flexible to work with. You can add up to 2 tablespoons if you need to.
Variations of crostoli
Oven-baked. If you need to avoid fried foods, you can bake the crostoli instead. After making the chiacchiere rectangles, place them at a small distance from each other on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Put in a pre-heated oven at 180° C and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove immediately from the baking tray onto a serving plate and dust with powdered sugar when they have slightly cooled and serve.
Cut slits in them. A lot of frappe or chiacchiere recipes call for two small horizontal lines to be cut into the crostoli before they are fried. Some cooks think that this helps the frappe to puff up and be airy and even lighter.
Other festive recipes for you to try:
How to properly store crostoli
Once the crostoli have completely cooled, store them in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 3 days.
Can I freeze crostoli dough?
Yes, you can freeze the dough as a ball. Completely cover it in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 1 month. Let it defrost slowly in the fridge and then work the dough a little with your hands to soften it up completely before putting it through the pasta maker or rolling it out to form the crostoli themselves.
What is carnival?
Carnival is a Christian celebration which happens over about a month long period in February or sometimes early March, depending on when Easter falls that specific year. The carnival season is filled with parades, parties, and public celebrations culminating in Mardi Gras, which is “Fat Tuesday” the wildest party before Lent begins the next day on Ash Wednesday a period of fasting.
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