There is no Christmas in the heel of Italy without Cartellate Pugliesi. This very traditional sweet somehow always makes its way onto each family table, and not only for the 25th of December but for the entire duration of the Christmas period.
There are many ways to prepare cartellate so the recipe might slightly change from town-to-town in Puglia and maybe even from one family to the next. It all depends on which variations of cartellate you like and how sweet your tooth is. I chose to share my mom’s traditional recipe that she learnt from her grandmother which has been my absolute favourite recipe for cartellate ever since I was a little girl, and fortunately it just happens to be vegan too. It’s cartellate with either with vincotto (grape must reduced down to a thick and sweet syrup) or with figs reduced to a syrup.
This year for the first time after quite a while I managed to return home to Italy for Christmas and I have to admit that one of the foods I was looking forward to the most to have again were these delicious cartellate pugliesi sweets which I’ve never seen anywhere else; plus their being made only and typically at this time of the year makes them quite the rare sweet treat too. Dale too was incredibly curious to try these sweet and crunchy bites after I described them to him and he couldn’t quite picture them in his head. Also their taste is so unique and unlike anything else I’ve ever treid. The only thing left to do was to have him try them instead of my repeatedly telling him how tasty they are.
How To Make Cartellate Pugliese
As you can imagine, the first thing I’ve asked my mom was to show us how to make cartellate altogether so I could learn her recipe and hopefully one day make them again on my own. Perhaps with Dale’s help since he’s more keen and interested in cooking recently.
Before I tell you all about how to make them you have to know that cartellate pugliesi can be either fried or baked which are equally mouth-watering, but the following recipe is for the fried version. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, for me there is nothing more that says Christmas to me than cartellate.
Cartellate Pugliesi Recipe
Ingredients for the cartellate dough:
500 gr of white flour
75/80 ml of extra virgin olive oil
100 ml (or more if needed) of dry white wine
Half teaspoon of fine salt
Olive oil for frying
Ingredients for the cartellate sweet coating:
Vincotto (either made from grape must or figs) enough to coat them all (about 500 ml)
A pinch of cinnamon
Half teaspoon of cloves
Combine the flour, salt and extra virgin olive oil together, slowly adding the white wine previously heated up to create a dough that is firm but not too hard. The cartellate dough must be fairly dry because they have to be rigid during the preparation and easily to handle so as to avoid them collapsing and losing their rose shape. Cut the dough in smaller pieces and roll them out to the same thickness of a lasagna sheet either with a rolling pin or alternatively with a pasta machine (set at 3). We used the pasta machine which made the whole process faster, it’s a tool that almost every Italian mother that enjoys cooking has in her kitchen and uses quite frequently too.
Once you have obtained your stripes of dough place each one of them on a lightly floured surface or a wooden board. With the help of a zig-zag pastry cutter, divide them into smaller strips 3-4 cm wide and about 20-25 cm long.
To shape the cartellate pinch the strips together with your fingers, make the edges to touch every 3-4 cm to create little pockets. Finally roll the pinched strips to form the cartellate wheels by sticking the dough with your finger so that it holds together, but be careful to make sure the cartellate still looks like a rose.
Place the cartellate on a tray, cover them with a light cloth and let them rest for a couple of hours. When we made them with my mother we left them to rest an entire night and fried them the morning after as my mom thinks the dough dries better for frying and adds an extra crispness.
It’s important to fry the cartellate in olive oil to make sure they get the perfect golden colour. This is a very delicate process, the oil has to be very hot and quite deep in the pan, as soon as the cartellate turn gold they are ready. Put the fried cartellate on a tray with kitchen roll at the bottom with the cartellate turned upside down so that the excess oil drains out.
Pour the vincotto in a pan with the cinnamon and cloves, heat it up on a low heat until it starts boiling then start to dip the cartellate into it so they get completely coated, don’t leave them in the vincotto for too long otherwise they’ll start breaking. Place the coated cartellate on a tray, a bowl or whatever you’d prefer to serve them on. Don’t be afraid to put them one on top of the other, the worse that can happen is that they might get a bit stuck to each other because the vincotto is quite sticky, but that’s ok.
We bought the vincotto which was made from figs, however this product is not available everywhere. It’s easy to find it in Puglia but not in all the other Italian regions or other countries. Vincotto can be made, it takes a little bit of time and patient but it’s not complicated and the taste is entirely worth it (in my opinion).
How To Make Vincotto From Grape Must
When it’s time to harvest the grapes to make the wine (September-October usually) my mother makes the vin cotto by boiling the white grape must in a saucepot. She lets it simmer on a medium-to-low heat and uncovered for 2 or more hours until the liquid has reduced by at least half. It has to be thick but still liquid enough to be poured in a sterilised glass bottle, wait until it cools down to seal the bottle and then the vincotto is usually stored until December when it’s time to make the delicious – and so loved by me (and now Dale) – cartellate pugliesi.
How To Make Vincotto From Figs
It can be done anytime of the year really as long as you can find some fresh figs. The best and most convenient time to make it is when figs are in season because, like the other version of vincotto, it can be stored in a glass bottle and used several months later when Christmas comes.
Quarter the figs and them in a saucepan and pour enough water to cover them. You can also add a couple of bay leaves and few cloves to give an extra flavours, but only if you want to it’s not a must-do. Let the figs boil and simmer until they are all mushy and became almost half of their original size. At this point filter the mushed figs to separate the pulp from the liquid, making sure to squeeze the pulp well so that there will be no liquid left before you then discard it.
Put the obtained sugary liquid in a saucepan and bring it boil. Let it simmer at a low heat for a couple of hours (or more if needed) stirring it every now and then with a wooden spoon until it is reduced by at least half. The vincotto has to be thick but still liquid, it has to have a similar consistency to maple syrup. to finish it needs to be poured in a sterilized glass bottle to be stored until Christmas time ready for the cartellate pugliesi.
Usually with about 20 kg of figs it’s possible to obtain between 1 litre or 1 ½ of vincotto.
Nowadays cartellate pugliesi can be bought already made, either coated or uncoated with vincotto. There are also other variations of them which unfortunately for us aren’t vegan because they’re coated with honey – but I wouldn’t want anything but my beloved vicotto cartellate anyway.
Dale loved cartellate and he had almost as much as me, they are quite sweet and rich but too delicious, and after you had one you cannot help having a second, third, and more.
If you’ve any questions about making cartellate do not hesitate in getting in touch we us. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did!