Each year, in the lead up to Christmas, my mother and her friends get together to make biscuits and desserts to have on hand when visitors drop in. I think that’s one thing I miss about our generation, we don’t drop in on each other like our parents did with their friends. As a kid it was wonderful because weekends were always so social – you were either at someones house, or had people at yours.
I have an incredibly social father, and what I loved even more than weekend drop ins were the ones that happened late at night on the way home from going out. I’d be asleep in the car thinking we were on the way home, when instead dad would decide to drop into a friends house. He would beep the car in the driveway, mum would carry me inside, place me on the couch to sleep and I would dose in and out of sleep listening to them chat while having a night cap.
Sometimes, and these were my most favourite times, we would drop in late at night so dad could play pranks on his friends. Making noises outside bedroom windows, or sneaking into houses to pour a bucket of water over his sleeping friends – when I think about it now, I realise how terrible it was of him, but as a child my dad was a hero for doing it. Thank god his friends were all so good natured about it – and don’t worry, they pranked him back.
So, back to the Cicerchiata. Every year, the cicerchiata features at my mothers house and is always one of the sweet treats made with friends in preparation for Christmas entertaining. It is traditionally a carnival time sweet, but for us it is the sweet we associate Christmas with the most and is a specialty of my grandmother’s region – Abruzzo. In Abruzzo you can find the most incredible honey, and so this wreath of fried sweet pasta dough balls slathered in hot honey and almonds is the perfect showcase for great honey. It is best served with coffee at the end of a meal as it is more biscuit than dessert.
Ever since I moved away from home, I’ve been meaning to make a cicerchiata myself at Christmas time, and finally this year after ringing mum to talk through the recipe, I made it for a bring a plate lunch with good foodie friends.
A cicerchiata really is a lot of fun to make, and a little extra effort at Christmas time is worth it. So why not try something a little different for entertaining this Christmas and give it a go.
- 5 eggs
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 500g '00' pasta flour
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- oil for deep frying
- 400g good quality honey
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- Coloured cylinder sprinkles
Place the flour on a clean bench and sprinkle over the sugar. Make a well in the centre and pour in the olive oil and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs and oil with a fork in the centre. Then using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined and a very elastic dough has formed.
Portion to dough into small pieces and then roll each piece out until long snakes form. Cut each length into equal pieces about 1 centimetre in length. Gently toss in flour to stop them sticking together, and repeat with the remaining dough.
Heat oil in a large heavy based saucepan or deep fryer and then fry the small pieces in batches until golden. Transfer to paper towel when cooked to drain the excess oil.
In a large saucepan heat the honey until it has just started to froth, then add the dough balls and cook stirring continually for 5-10 minutes till they have caramelised and absorbed the honey. Add the slivered almonds quickly, stir to distribute, then turn the entire mixture out onto a large pizza tray lined with baking paper. Working quickly and with a spoon, free form a wreath shape then sprinkle with coloured sprinkles. Set aside to cool. Once cool enjoy with espresso coffee.
NB. The dough ratio for this recipe is: 1 egg = 1 tablespoon sugar + 1 tablespoon olive oil + 100g flour.