Every dessert is worth it at Carnevale!
Venice is in the middle of Carnevale and that means that the seemingly endless Venetian pastry shops (pasticcerria) that line the narrow streets and spill out into each campo from the Dorsoduro to San Polo are at the height of sugary delights. Although Carnevale is celebrated all over the world it is at its best when celebrated in Venice where sugar seems to be in the air ready to tempt you with all manner of Carnevale sweets.
Indulging in the exquisite pastries and traditional foods of Carnevale in Venice is a tour de force not to be taken lightly. The history,romance and atmospheric feeling of a Venetian Carnevale transports you to another time and place where masks and twisted identities blur the lines between fantasy and reality and the excesses of the flesh are excused for the moment. Everyone is ready to enjoy a pre-Lenten indulgence and sugary pastries like Baci in Gondola (kisses in a gondola), speckled white meringues bound together by a stripe of dark chocolate are beckoning.
Who can resist pallone di casanova (Casanova’s Balls) or not be intrigued by lingue di suocera (“mother-in-law’s tongues”)? The classic pastries of Café Florian with a romantic view of St. Mark’s Cathedral have enchanted Venetians and visitors for centuries. Exqusite buttercream-frosted chocolate tarts, little slices of ricotta cheesecakes, tiramisu cups and pistachio cream puffs are joined by traditional Carnevale sweets you can only find once a year.
Frittelle, a regional fritter- like pastry made during Carnival season, are known as the National Sweet of the Veneto and are considered typical of the region and so special that in the17th century, the fritolieri, or makers of these desserts, were held in such high esteem that an association was established to ensure that the original recipe was maintained and passed on to their children. Since then the craft of the fritolieri has been handed down from generation to generation to maintain a gastronomic tradition that is part of the city of Venice and the Veneto region.
Castagnole are another Venetian sweet popular during Carnevale although you can find them in many other regions of Italy. In Italian castagnole means “little chestnut,” but there are no nuts in this dessert. The tiny balls of dough are about the size as of a chestnut and so they are named. Similar to fritelle, castagnole are smaller and after frying rolled in sugar and soaked in syrup.
Fried dough strips are the most typical street sweet that can be found all over Italy during Carnevale. In fact they are so popular that almost every region of Italy claims their origin and has a special name typical to the region. In Venice where the strips are cut very thin in the form of ribbons they are called galini. In Tuscany cenci (rags) or chiacchiere (chatter). In Umbria frappe. In Emilia-Romagna sfrappole.
It's almost impossible for an Italian to forego the making or eating of sweets that follow the regional food traditions of Carnevale.
My favorite Venetian sweets are the Doge’s Cookies (Pan dei Doge). Being partial to Doges in general (see my blog on Descended from the Doge) these cookies are amazing, especially the pistachio ones and if that weren’t enough to tempt my sweet tooth there is the exotic and elegant Torta del Doge, a small buttery cake filled with raisins topped with pine nuts and flavored with rum and I haven’t even mentioned the zabaglione cream puffs.