Golossary: Cenci

Cenci, Chiacchere, Crostoli, etc. – What’s in a name? These carnival treats go by a different name in every town. They may be called cenci in Florence, but chiacchere elsewhere. Chiacchere is one of the more common names and a particularly evocative one. “Chiacchere” is to chat or chatter, and the name comes from the sound of the pastry bubbling in the hot oil. Lucca has one name, Florence another, Trieste, a third; but you find them throughout northern Italy in the weeks leading up to Carnevale, and the Florentines especially love them. But then again, does anybody not love fried dough?

They are usually very simple, long strips of a simple dough, fried until crisp and then coated in powdered sugar. They are sweet and crispy. And heavy thanks to the cooking oil. The flavor is a bit akin to a dense powdered sugar doughnut, compressed.  But you kind also find Cenci al Forno, oven-baked cenci. Sometimes dusted with fine granulated sugar, they are less sweet, and more refined then their powdered sugar brother. The best versions are delicate thin wafer with an evocative aroma of orange flower and a whisper of anise seed. Finally there is the first cousin once removed, the filled cenci, which is much harder to find. With a thick dough thanks to their filling, these are similar to the fried cenci, but are stuffed with fruit jam, chocolate or even Nutella (of course.) The thick, often overly sweet filling does battle with the surrounding wafer.

Also called: Galani, Frappe, Lattughe, Crostoli

Recommended: Cenci al Forno at Forno Becagli, Borgo Ognissanti, 92r, Florence.

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