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Apulian Cooking
Purceddhruzzi and carteddhrate
to sweeten your Christmas
A must on Apulian tables throughout the Christmas holidays, they are delicious fried “sweets” covered with honey, originating from the Middle East.
There are countless variations in the ingredients, almost a competition to see who succeeds in making the best ones
by Dario Ersetti
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Purceddhruzzi and carteddhrate just fried and covered with honey, aniseed and pine nuts. Delicious!
Photo by Dario Ersetti

Purceddhruzzi (literally piglets) and carteddhrate (literally pieces of thin paper) are typical Christmas “sweets” of Apulia, but also widespread in nearby regions. Purceddhruzzi are similar to Neapolitan struffoli and Sicilian truffoli. They are fried and covered with honey and almost certainly originate from the Middle East. Normally the same dough is used for both recipes. Curiously enough, the various texts that deal with the topic report countless variations as far as the ingredients are concerned: hard or tender wheat flour, with or without eggs, with or without yeast, beer yeast or baking powder or baking soda or ammonia, with either olive oil or sunflower oil or lard or butter, with either wine or alcohol or even aniseed or brandy, honey or vincotto (cooked grape must) and so on. It seems that completely different recipes are being described!

In his Libro Novo printed in Venice in 1557, Cristofaro di Messisbugo wrote that for truffoli one should use “refined flour, beaten eggs, sugar, rose water and a bit of butter, as well as a little saffron. Once you have mixed it, fry the truffoli in good fat or butter or good olive oil and then leave them to cool in honey. After that build a castle, or a tower or anything else you wish with them”. In fact, even today purceddhruzzi are prepared in the shape of a cone.

If one wants to go further back in time, a graffito of a dish similar to cartellate is to be found in a rock painting of the 6th century BC near Bari, which has been interpreted as an offering of first fruits (lanxsatura) to the gods.

However, regardless of the wide range of ingredients, what really characterizes this dish is olive oil, in which citrus peel has been fried. Olive oil is needed to obtain a sort of short pastry and, by adding baking powder, you can reduce the amount and make it crumbly just the same. Probably the custom of making the oil smoking hot with citrus peel in it derives from the fact that in the past olive oil had lots of defects and it had a very bad taste because it had been badly milled and also because very often fried oil was used several times before being thrown away.

Traditional festivity sweets often represent a sort of rite. For instance, in the past, when society was rural, farmers were proud to donate these sweets to the landlord for Christmas and even today it is a very widespread custom in the villages of Apulia to exchange these presents between friends. However, giving a tray of these “sweets” to friends and receiving in exchange another tray with the same speciality, looks more like a challenge rather than a rite.

Another aspect that could be interesting for a cultural anthropologist is the religious aura that these sweets have been given. In the past eating a fig stolen from the landlord was regarded as a sin of gluttony and the fact of being able to eat something sweet once a year without going directly to hell had to be religiously correct. Therefore, in Christian tradition cartellate represent the halo or the swaddling bands that covered Baby Jesus in the cradle, but also the crown of thorns of the Crucifixion, and all Christmas sweets are in fact presents to Our Lady, cooked to invoke her protection for a good harvest, while in Taranto, according to tradition, the last purceddhuzzo should be eaten on the 17th January, the day dedicated to Saint Antony the Abbot, who is represented with a piglet following him.

In Parabita, in the province of Lecce, the same dough is used to make pitteddhre.

With a rolling pin roll out the dough and with a glass cut out circles of about 6 cm in diameter on which a spoon of grape jam is placed. With your finger tips pinch the circle in several points so that the edge is in relief. Bake at 150°C for approximately 30 minutes.

Typical of Ruffano, in the province of Lecce, are caranciuli or riccetti di Gesù.

From the dough cut out long strips about 1 meter long similar to thick spaghetti and wind them round a stick starting from the bottom and then the other way round so as to make the dough overlap. Press them slightly, remove the stick and fry in abundant olive oil.

 

 

Recipe

 

Makes about 1.5 kg of purceddhruzzi and carteddhrate:

 

- 1 Kg of all-purpose flour

- 150 cc of extra virgin olive oil

- about 150 cc of dry white wine

- 50 cc of alcohol or anisette liquor

- 60 g of sugar

- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

- 1 small packet of baking powder

- juice and peel of 1 orange

- 1 lemon

- 1 mandarin

- salt

- about 200 g of oil for frying

- honey

- grated plain chocolate

- pine nuts

- aniseed

 

 

Make olive oil smoking hot with a few small slices of orange, lemon and mandarin peel. Leave to cool.

On the pastry board put the flour and make a well. Add sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, a pinch of salt and mix, then add olive oil and the citrus juice and mix, adding little by little white wine and/or liquor so as to obtain a soft, smooth mixture. Knead for a long time and then begin kneading again. This is the fundamental secret for a good result. Leave it to stand for 30 minutes.

 

 

Purceddhruzzi

 

From the dough make tiny rolls as long as a pencil, cut them into small pieces of about 1 cm and make a hollow in them on a wicker basket according to tradition or on a fork, to obtain gnocchetti. Fry them in oil at a moderate heat until they are a golden color, drain and roll them on absorbent paper.

Heat the honey and drop the purceddhruzzi in it, stirring very gently. After a while remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a large dish, piling them up to form a kind of dome. Sprinkle with roasted pine nuts, aniseed and grated chocolate. You can also make them in the shape of a donut by placing a glass in the middle, which is then removed.

 

 

Carteddhrate

 

Roll out the dough with a rolling pin and cut it into strips 4 cm wide and about 30 cm long. Fold the dough strips in two lengthwise and pinch them every 5 cm to join them. Wind them in spirals to obtain a shape similar to a flower and fry in abundant boiling oil.

Remove them as soon as they puff up and are a golden color, drain them and place them on absorbent paper.

Place them on a large dish and cover them with honey, sprinkle with powdered sugar mixed with ground cinnamon and aniseed.

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