Mamma’s crostoli are quite unlike those made by anyone else. They are lighter and crispier than others I have eaten and retain that freshness for weeks. I made crostoli for the first time last week for the celebration of the life of my father, who passed away on 4 March 2012.
Crostoli are known by many other names (galani, sfrappole, bugie) in Italy, depending on what region of Italy you are in. They are also called angel’s wings and a version is cooked in other countries such as Hungary, Poland and the Ukraine. In Italy, they are a speciality of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Guilia, which is where my family is from. They are essentially sweet fried pastries twisted into ribbons or bows, hence they look like the wings of angels. Mamma remembers making them with her aunt during the the 1940s and she has perfected her recipe over the years. The major difference between my mother’s recipe and other recipes is that she adds no butter or lard to the dough. Every other recipe I have seen has one or the other or both. They also have a good slosh of grappa added and citrus zest. This results in a pastry that is light, crispy and not as rich as others (often resulting in greater quantities being eaten in one sitting!). My father used to say “uno tira l’altro” in Istrian dialect (meaning…one pulls another one in).
Mamma said that making them the way her zia ‘Rica did takes time. She would stretch the pastry by hand next to the fogoler (stove), the heat making it easier to get the pastry to be so thin that you could almost see through it. A far simpler way is to use a pasta making machine to stretch the pastry. It is a bit like making sweet fried pasta. Here is the recipe my mamma Livia gave me. Crostoli are perfect with a glass of sweet wine such as a Moscato but are also lovely with a bubbly such as Prosecco, which we had on the day of the celebration of my father’s life.
3 cups plain flour
6 tablespoons caster sugar (add a bit more if you like them sweeter)
2 whole small eggs and 1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons grappa (or brandy or marsala)
finely grated zest of a large lemon (or an orange if you prefer)
1 tablespoon of white vinegar
1/2 cup water (more if needed)
vegetable oil for frying
icing sugar for dusting
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until a ball of dough forms (or you can mix this by hand). Empty onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes to ensure it is homogeneous and smooth. It should be like a rather hard pasta dough. Add more flour or water if needed to get the right consistency whilst you are kneading the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Cut off a quarter of the pastry ball, leaving the remainder in plastic wrap. Roll it flat with a rolling pin into a rectangular shape that will pass through the widest setting of a pasta machine. Roll through the machine, making it thinner at each roll, adding a bit more flour if it is sticks to the bench. It should be rolled through to the thinnest setting of your pasta machine three times. Cut each long strip with a fluted pastry cutter so you have 3 long thin strips. Cut each of the long strips into 8 to 10 cm (3 inch) pieces. Make an incision in the centre of each piece of dough and thread one end through the incision to make a bow (you don’t have to make the bow but it looks prettier). Repeat with the remaining dough. If you have someone helping you, one person can start cooking the crostoli whilst the other continues rolling and cutting.
To cook, heat vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. As crostoli are deep fried, you need the oil to be 5 to 7 cm high in the saucepan. Once the oil is hot, drop in 3 or 4 crostoli (or more depending on the diameter of the saucepan). They take about 30 seconds to cook on each side so you need to work quickly and turn them as soon as the edges start to colour. They should be a sandy colour when cooked. If they are brown, you have burnt them. Once cooked on both sides, remove them with tongs and drain them on absorbent paper. If they take longer than 30 seconds on each side to cook, your oil is not hot enough and they will absorb too much oil. The secret of light crostoli is in the short time they take to cook.
You can eat them warm but I like them at room temperature. Before eating, sprinkle icing sugar over them. I don’t put the icing sugar on until I am ready to serve. I find that this ensures they remain crisp and last in an airtight container for weeks (though you will eat them sooner than that!) .