If the word ‘crostoli’ is said quietly on the other side of a crowded room full of Italian’s yelling at each other (aka talking), you can rest assured I will hear it and make a bee-line for whoever spoke it. “Can I give you a hand getting the Crostoli out?” I say, dutifully offering to help my poor hard-working aunty climb the ladder to the pantry where they are kept and helping to lay them out on a tray. I ‘accidentally’ break some while being purposefully heavy handed with their transfer and cry (with well-rehearsed mock sincerity) “Oh no! I’ll just have to eat these ones”. I then smile to myself as I crunch down on them in my mouth and remember how incredible they are.
Crostoli have been my favourite biscuit treat ever since I was a little girl. There is something other-worldly about crostoli and the name says it all – Angel’s Wings. They are shatteringly crisp biscuits made from a sweet pasta dough that is rolled thin, cut into strips, folded through itself and then fried till puffed and crisp. Once the fried dough has cooled completely, it is then tossed in powdered sugar and consumed liberally until you can’t possibly eat any more.
While crostoli are largely associated with Italian Carnevale, for our family the magical word is uttered around Christmas time when my zie (aunties) open tupperware containers full of it that they prepare in the lead up to Christmas for when guests drop in for coffee.
Earlier this year I went back to Perth to visit my family and while there I caught up with as many Aunties and cousins as I could. Zia Concetta’s crostoli are the stuff of legends and so when I visited her place for coffee, she dutifully brought out a container of crostoli.
I realised that I hadn’t ever made them, so I sat down with aunty Connie, grabbed a notepad, and started discussing the perfect Crostoli recipe. Aunty Connie is my mother’s sister, and while I’ve long thought Connie’s crostoli are the best, I quickly find out that the recipe she uses is an adaptation of my Aunty Jenny’s recipe (my father’s sister-in-law). This is the best thing about Italian recipes and the food culture, they are usually shared, adapted and enjoyed by all. None of my Aunties have ever had a ‘secret’ recipe that they keep to themselves and refuse to share.
The reason I like this recipe so much, is it is perfect in its simplicity. A handful of ingredients (+ oil for frying) and absolutely no need to add anything other flavours. Sure, people do and recipes abound with added vanilla extract or other things, but I promise you, you won’t need them – stick to the basics.
Like most recipes from my family, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that with measurements often replaced with “you want the consistency of a firm pasta dough”. Luckily, I’m all over how the dough needed to feel, so I was able to measure and add the flour as I went, offering you exact measurements. Still, working with pasta dough is always down to look and feel so you will need to use your hands to sense if the dough needs a little extra flour.
Also, don’t fear that shaping of these beauties, while they look complicated, they are actually very simple to turn into the Crostoli shape – more about how to do that in the recipe below.
Zia’s recipe also makes a veritable bucketful of these beauties, so I tested a halved recipe for you, that way you aren’t frying pasta for days.
Italian Crostoli | Angel Wings Biscuits
- 3 whole eggs
- 1/4 cup caster sugar
- 1/4 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 1/4 cup brandy
- 380g Italian '00' pasta flour (plus extra for kneading)
- Rice bran oil, for frying
- Icing sugar, for dusting
Place eggs, sugar, brandy and oil in a large bowl and beat with a fork until completely combined. Add the flour in increments, using the fork to mix in the flour, until the mixture becomes crumbly and dough like.
Transfer to a floured bench and using your hands, start bringing the dough together kneading the crumbly dough until it becomes smooth, silky and slightly elastic in texture. This will likely take between 8-10 minutes of kneading and might require a little more flour to be kneaded in if you are using large eggs. Wrap in cling wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes (you can omit this step, but resting it helps with the elasticity of the dough).
Clamp your pasta machine to the bench and dust the bench top with flour. Cut a lump of the dough (about the size of a small orange) and flatten it out with the palm of your hand. Set the pasta machine at the widest setting and roll the lump through. Then set the machine down a level and roll the dough through again. Continue this process going down a level each time.
The thickness of the dough is important for Crostoli, and sadly no two pasta machines are the same. You don't want to take the pasta down to the thinnest setting as the Crostoli will not puff up, alternatively, you don't want the pasta to be too thick or they won't be crispy when they cool. Connie takes her crostoli down to the second last thinnest on her machine, but I had to take mine the one before that. The way to test is to roll out a pasta sheet to two different settings and quickly fry one crostoli of each in oil to make sure it is before deciding what works for your machine.
Once you roll out a sheet (it should end up being as wide as your pasta machine is), you want to cut it into strips horizontally about 3.5cm (1.5 inches) thick. Then, all you do to make the crostoli shape is cut a 3cm (1 inch) line in the middle running of the strip and push one side of the strip through the hole and pull through. Once you straighten out the piece of pastry it will look like the crostoli shape (which looks even better when it has puffed up in oil). Repeat with all of the dough until you have shaped all the crostoli.
Heat the rice bran oil for frying in a heavy based medium saucepan. You don't want the dough to be piping hot. The oil is at the perfect temperature when a piece of test dough is added, drops to the bottom and takes 2-3 seconds to come to the top of the oil. This will mean that once the outside is golden, the dough will be puffed up and it will be crisp when it cools. Too hot and the outside will puff up, but the inside will not be crisp when you bite into it and it will be a doughy crumble.
Fry in batches of 4-5 until they are all cooked, then set aside on paper towel to drain and cool completely. Once cool, toss in sifted powdered sugar and store in airtight plastic containers until ready to serve.
NOTES & TIPS
- Connie says it is important not to use extra virgin for this, they don't work as well as regular Italian olive oil
- The alcohol cannot be omitted. You don't really taste it in the final biscuits, but it contributes to the texture of the dough being perfectly crisp when fried. You can use Limoncello or Frangelico instead of brandy if you don't want to use brandy (I actually used limoncello in this batch as I didn't have brandy), but don't omit it all together as it won't work as well.
- Using Italian '00' pasta flour makes a difference too. '00' is the reference to how finely the flour is milled, and it means it is the finest milled flour you can buy - perfect for pasta dishes. You can use plain flour if you can't find the Italian '00' but I recommend using '00' if you can get it.
- Make sure you fry the biscuits in an oil with a high smoke point and neutral flavour - not an olive oil. Zia Connie has tried them all and swears by rice bran oil, but you could use grapeseed oil too if you don't have/can't get rice bran oil.
- My tip is to roll out a couple of lasagna sheets at a time and then cut and shape them, don't roll out all the pasta sheets before shaping the crostoli as the sheets will start to dry out. This is fine if it happens once they are already shaped before frying, but you need to shape them first.
Chew Town was not paid to develop this recipe, but was gifted the Marcato Atlas 150 Design Copper Pasta Machine from Everten with thanks. Their Marcato machines can be purchased HERE.