This time of year when I talk about carnival treats, I am not talking corn dogs, cotton candy and snow cones. Carnival is Carnevale – Mardi Gras – the big hedonistic celebration that takes place before the beginning of Lent, a season of reflection and sacrifice.  In Italy this means dressing up in costumes, having parades, throwing confetti and eating all the fattening foods.  Unfortunately, it’s a little late to get to Italy before the Carnevale season ends this year –   Fat Tuesday is next week. And it would take at least a week to make your way around Italy to sample the traditional goodies from each city and or region.   Most of them are fried, all of them are calorie dense and inarguably delicious.   There are cenci, fritelle di riso, castagnole and then there is the gorgeous schiacciata alla fiorentina.  The more well-known schiacciata is savory, like focaccia, and you can find it year round in Tuscany.  This version makes its appearance in February for Carnevale and is a sweet (but not too sweet) airy confection, somewhere between a bread and a cake.  I find it irresistible. It is covered in powdered sugar and often decorated with a cocoa powder fleur de lis, the symbol of Florence.  As with so many Italian sweets, citrus peel, in this case orange, gives it a hint of sweetness and enhances the flavor.  I am partial to this recipe from Emiko Davies (who is one of my favorites for delicious Tuscan baking recipes).  Below are a few notes to which you should refer when using the recipe:

  • Emiko’s recipe calls for yeast, meaning fresh yeast.  You can use yeast packets but in that case, I recommend only one packet (7 grams).
  • The recipe says to mix the yeast with warm water but never says how much water to use.  Relax.  It’s ok.   You need to embrace the Italian way and learn the Italian phrase for measurement: quanto basta.  This is a very specific measurement:  as much as you need.  Basically you use as much water as it will take to make the flour and yeast into a nice dough (I would start with about a 1/2 cup.
  • The dough will be sticky and spongy while it is rising, not smooth and elastic like a pizza dough.

Buon Carnevale – Laissez le bon temps rouler – Let the good times roll!  And next week, we fast.

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