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Venetian favette (castagnole)

Venetian favette (castagnole)

PT20M

Carnival is a time of year that still bares quite some relevance in the Italian calendar. Running from the end of Christmas time to Ash Wednesday (which marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar) it is still considered to be the period in which all transgressions are allowed, most especially in the culinary realm.

As a celebratory festivity, Carnival can be traced back to the Roman empire. However, it is in Venice that it found fertile soil, flourishing within the water walls of the Serenissima, and eventually gaining worldwide fame. It is no mystery that 18th century Venice was known for its decadent, lustful costumes. These were only amplified during Carnival, as masquerades and secret parties would take place all over the city.

The same spirit of excess is reflected in what is considered to be Venice’s traditional Carnival foods. Not unlike the rest of Italy, typical treats for carnevale are often fried and sweet. Among the most famous are frittelle (doughnuts); crostoli or galani (paper-thin layers of dough, deep-fried and dusted in sugar) and favette.

Favette (also known as castagnole – little chestnuts – in other Italian regions) are perhaps the least known of the Venetian Carnival classics, but they are by no means less exciting. Small in size, they have a soft, cake-like texture and a lovely aromatic flavour that makes them extremely moreish. And although they can be easily found in bakeries and pastry shops (either plain or stuffed with custard), in my family, we always made favette at home – it’s traditional.

This is the recipe we have been using for as long as I can remember, as simple and moreish as it gets. The only difference is, nonna used to fry them in lard – and you can, too, if you wish to get a taste of the old days.

Ingredients

  • Favette (castagnole)

  • 200g of plain flour, sifted
  • 60g of caster sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 1 tbsp of baking powder
  • 1 pinch of sea salt
  • 1 unwaxed lemon, zested
  • 2 eggs, medium
  • 40g of unsalted butter, at room temperature, diced
  • 1 tbsp of anise liqueur
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1l sunflower oil, for frying
1
To make the favette dough, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and break the eggs into it. Add the butter, the anise liqueur (if using) and the vanilla, and begin to stir all the ingredients with a wooden spoon until roughly combined
2
Using your hands now, knead the dough until you have a smooth, elastic, slightly sticky ball. Wrap it in cling film and allow to rest for 5 minutes
3
Fill three-quarters of a deep, medium-sized skillet with sunflower oil. Place it over a low-medium heat and wait for the oil to reach 180°C
4
Divide the dough into five chunks of roughly the same size. Roll each chunk out into long ropes that are about 1cm thick, then cut them into small pieces, about 1cm long. Roll each piece into a ball (favetta) using your palms
5
Finally, fry the favette in batches until crisp and deep golden all around, for about 4 minutes. Drain and transfer them to a plate covered with paper towels
6
Leave them to cool slightly, then roll in caster sugar and eat them as soon as you finish, or within the same day
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