Frittelle and galani: pastries of the Venetian Carnival


Frittelle and galani: pastries of the Venetian Carnival.

T

he Venetian Carnival: an event unique in the world, renewing its magic year after year. During the period of its celebrations, all the pastry chefs of the Doge’s city prepare delicious ‘frittelle’ and ‘galani’: let’s taste these sweet specialties, rich in history and tradition, surrounded by joyful music and beautiful masks.


Frittelle and galani: pastries of the Venetian Carnival.

The Venetian carnival.

'Saturnalia' (img-01)

‘C

arnival’ has its roots in a distant past: some experts trace its origins back to ancient times, even before the Roman ‘Saturnali’ and the Greek ‘Dionysiache’, events very similar to this festivity under many aspects.
What all these celebrations have in common is a spirit of renewal, getting new life at the beginning of each year: this results in a temporary suspension of rules in favor of chaos, considered the strongest force of creation.

A sort of ‘beneficial disorder’, main character in the theatrical representation that is the true essence of Carnival, allowing transgressions usually forbidden and a momentary subversion of the social order, thanks to which, for a few days, the poor are allowed to disguise as the rich and vice versa (*1).



It’s easy to understand why masks play a fundamental role in this great game.
Those made in Venice are among the most beautiful: a true form of art, blending culture, imagination and colors, thanks to the virtuosity of skilled craftsmen.
Carnival has been celebrated in the city since 1094 (*2): a city famous worldwide for the beauty of its places, for its scents and its flavors. Perfumes and flavors that can be found, for example, in particular pastry specialties, prepared only during this festivity: the ‘fritole’ and the ‘galani’.

Notes:
*1: The special freedom granted to the people (anyway subject to strict monitoring), had the great advantage to be a sort of ‘safety valve’ for social tensions.
*2: The first document containing a reference to the Venetian carnival, dates back to the year 1094 and was written by the famous Doge Vitale Falier.


Saint Mark's Basilica, Venice.


The Venetian 'fritola' (or 'fritoea'). The Venetian 'fritola' (or 'fritoea').

Venetian ‘frittelle’: a bit of history.

'Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi Mastro dell'Arte del Cucinare' (img-02)

I

t’s almost impossible to establish with certainty the date of birth of the ‘frittella’. As often happens when dealing with a typical Italian specialty, some experts trace its origins back to ancient Rome (*1).
It seems there is a document of the Fourteenth Century (*2) describing a kind of pastry quite similar.
Venetian 'fritole'. One of the first evidences dates back to the Renaissance and is contained in a cooking treatise (*3) by Bartolomeo Scappi, ‘master in the art of cooking’ (‘maestro nell’arte del cucinare’) and personal chef of the Popes Pius IV and Pius V. In this monumental work, Scappi illustrates the recipes of different types of ‘frittelle’, both sweet and savory, including the ‘frittella alla venetiana’ (the ‘Venetian frittella’).
This delicacy reached the moment of its greatest success during the Eighteenth Century in the Serenissima Republic (*4), where it was considered the ‘national dessert’.
At that time, the ‘fritole’ or ‘fritoe’, dialect names for the ‘frittelle’, were prepared by the ‘fritoleri’.

Notes:
*1: These experts refer to the ‘globulos’, prepared during the Roman festivity known as ‘Saturnalia’. The ‘globulos’ are described in detail in another paragraph of this article.
*2: Even if this document is quoted very often, its existence is not proven. Many suggest it’s stored in the Casanatense Library of Rome.
*3: ‘Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi, cvuoco secreto di Papa Pio V’, 1570.
*4: The Republic of Venice.

‘Fritoleri’: the ancient makers of the Venetian ‘fritola’.

'The frittelle vendor.' (img-03)

T

he ‘fritoleri’ were the Venetian artisans who, many years ago, prepared and sold the ‘frittelle’. They were very interesting people, easily recognizable for the large white apron they wore and for the small jar full of sugar (*1) they waved with colorful gestures to attract the attention of passersby.
Their ‘office’ was, in fact, the street: some of them were peddlers, some others, the wealthiest, had rectangular shacks, housing the ‘tools of trade’, including great wooden tables and large pans. The front of these ‘shops’, was intended to display the exquisite preparations. Once ready, the ‘fritole’ were carefully placed on elaborately decorated metal plates (*2), surrounded by their ingredients (*3). The meaning of such a presentation was to lure potential customers showing the quality of the product.



The ‘fritoleri’ were very proud of their work, so much to exhibit their names using a sign. In 1619, to protect their art (and interests), they established a proper corporation: this way, each of the 70 members received the exclusive right to work in a specific area and to hand down the profession (including its prerogatives) to his children.
The corporation was so successful to stay in business for over two hundred years (*4).
The ‘fritoleri’ became so famous that they were celebrated by many artists.

Notes:
*1: The use of sugar by the fritoleri is a quite important topic, deepened in a specific paragraph of this article.
*2: Information acquired from the book ‘Scene di Venezia : Municipali suoi costumi’ by Pietro Gasparo Moro (1841).
*3: These ingredients were (mainly): flour, eggs, pine nuts, raisins and candied citron.
*4: Until the end of the 19th century.

‘Globulos’, the ancestors of the ‘frittelle’.

Patrician Torlonia - Catone (img-08)

‘G

lobulos’ are often considered the true ancestors of the ‘frittelle’. They were prepared in ancient Rome during the celebration of the ‘Saturnalia’ (*1), mixing durum wheat flour and cheese. This dough was used to make little balls, which were then fried in lard and seasoned with honey and poppy seeds. It’s possible to find an accurate description of the recipe in the ‘De Agri cultura’, one of the works by Marco Porcio Catone, famous Roman general, intellectual and politician.

Note:
*1: Celebration held in the (current) month of December, in honor of the god Saturn.

The stuffed ‘frittelle’.

'Stuffed frittella'.

A

s already specified in this article, the original Venetian ‘fritola’ is not stuffed, but a ‘variation’ actually exists. It’s very successful, considering that nowadays it’s as famous as the traditional one. The classic ‘stuffed fritola’, as it should be called, is usually filled with custard or eggnog cream (*1).
The pastry shops and the bakers in which it’s easy to come across strolling through the ‘calli’ (*2), seem to compete with each other in filling this exquisite specialty as much as possible.

Notes:
*1: Other types of filling may be used sometime.
*2: ‘Calli’, the narrow streets of Venice.

Sugar for the ‘fritole’.

'The sugar mill' (img-09)

A

s already mentioned in another paragraph of this article, one of the details that made the ‘fritoleri’, the ‘artists of the fritola’, easily recognizable, was the casual use of a small jar to spread sugar on their exquisite preparations. Such ease, although nowadays may seem quite common, once was not so normal: for many centuries sugar was considered a rare commodity. A precious spice, since it had to be imported from very distant lands and, for this reason, it was used as a sweetener only by the wealthy classes. Common people had to settle for honey, being careful not to use too much of it.
In such a context, the Republic of Venice, especially during the period of its greatest expansion, represented an exception: thanks to its vast commercial network, the ‘Serenissima’ could count on (relatively) cheap supplies of sugar. The great part of it came from the colonies: among them, the island of Crete, at the time known as ‘Candia’ (*1).
It’s therefore no coincidence that one of the oldest and richest confectionery traditions of Europe was born in Venice. The ‘fritole’ can be undoubtedly considered an example of this tradition.

Note:
*1: The sugar known as ‘candioto’ (because it was produced in Candia), was used to make the ‘candii’, what we know today as ‘candied fruit’.


Sugar for the 'fritole'.


The Venetian 'galani'. The Venetian 'galani'.

The origins of the ‘galani’.

T

he ‘galani’ are, together with the ‘fritole’, the Venetian carnival desserts having the oldest tradition. A tradition rooted in a distant past: some historians argue that their ancestor could be the ‘frictilia’, prepared in ancient Rome during the ‘Saturnalia’ festivities. An important evidence supports this hypothesis: the fact that similar preparations, true heirs of the ‘frictilia’, can be found nowadays, under different names, in almost all the regions of Italy and even in many countries of Europe, once dominions of the Empire.
Most probably, the original recipe evolved differently in different places: in Venice this dessert is characterized by a texture particularly thin and a shape that reminds that of the ribbon, the ‘galan’, once worn around the neck by local girls.



It’s somewhat surprising that moving just a few kilometers from the Lagoon, pushing into the Veneto region, the same dessert is slightly different: the ‘crostolo’ is thicker, has notched edges, and is frequently cut in the middle.

Note:
*1: The region of Italy where Venice is located.

The Roman ‘frictilia’, the ancestors of the galani.

T

he ‘frictilia’ are often considered the true ancestors of the galani. Just like the ‘globulos’, this was a dessert that could not be missed during the festivity known as ‘Saturnalia’, an event in which, at the time of ancient Rome, the sowing and the god Saturn were celebrated. Although not all sources agree, the ‘frictilia’ consisted of strips (*1), prepared using a simple dough made with flour (probably spelt), fried in pork fat and seasoned with honey.

Note:
*1: Some sources speculate that perhaps they were round in shape.

The ‘cousins’ of the galani.

A

s already mentioned in another paragraph of this article, the ‘galani’ can be rightly considered the grandchildren of a kind of pastry very popular at the time of the Roman Empire: the ‘frictilia’. This empire, at the height of its glory, stretched its borders far beyond the current Italian and European territories. It’s therefore no coincidence that preparations similar to the galani, most probably also derived from the ‘frictilia’, can be found in places very distant from Venice.



Their names obviously change from place to place. Here follows some examples, related to the Italian regions:

Click here for a short list.

‘Crostoli’: mainly in Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino Alto Adige;
‘Sfrappole’: in Emilia;
‘Frappe’: mainly in Lazio, but also in some areas of Emilia;
‘Cioffe’: mainly in Abruzzo;
‘Bugie’: mainly in Liguria and Piedmont;
‘Cenci’: mainly in Toscana;
‘Chiacchiere’: Campania;

Some other examples, outside Italy:

Click here for a short list.

‘Raderkuchen’: Germany;
‘Minciunele’: Romania;
‘Chruściki’: Poland;
‘Oreillettes’: France;
‘Khvorost’: Russia;

The castagnole’.

The castagnole'.

S

peaking about the typical Venetian carnival desserts, it’s important to mention the ‘castagnole’ (*1). Being smaller in size, they can be considered, in a way, the ‘little sisters’ of the fritole (*2).
They are prepared using a mixture of flour, eggs, butter and sugar (*3). The dough is cut in pieces, used to make tiny balls: these are fried in oil (*4) and garnished with sugar.

Notes:
*1: They are also known as ‘fave’ or ‘favette’.
*2: The ‘castagnole’ have also greater consistency than the ‘fritole’.
*3: They have generally no filling.
*4: There is a variant, more dietetic but less tasty, cooked in the oven.


Venetian gondolas.

Carlo Goldoni about carnival (img-10)

The etymology of the word ‘carnival’.

T

here are several theories about the origins of the word ‘carnival’ (in Italian, ‘carnevale’). According to the most accredited one, it could derive from the fusion of two Latin terms: ‘carnem’ (‘meat’) and ‘levare’ (‘remove’), with reference to the habit of starting a period of abstinence from meat immediately after ‘Mardi Gras’ (‘Martedì Grasso’), the closing day of the festivity.

‘Fritole’ and galani, when?

I

n the city of Venice, ‘fritole’ and ‘galani’ should be sold, at least theoretically, starting from the day after Epiphany, until Mardi Gras. It’s more a habit than a rule, part of an ancient tradition, nowadays frequently disregarded.

Venetian carnival and Vivaldi.

Vivaldi’s music to accompany a stroll through the Venetian ‘calli’, enjoying an exquisite ‘fritoea’:

Note: join Spotify and listen to the full songs.

How to make the ‘fritole’.

H

ere follows a video (in Italian) showing how to make the ‘fritole’:

Venetian ‘frittelle’ with a hole.

O

r, as the Venetians would say, “e fritoe col buso”.
A famous painting of the Eighteenth Century by Pietro Longhi, the ‘Frittelle vendor’, shows a peddler preparing these pastries and selling them to a rich nobleman accompanied by two ladies. It’s interesting to note that the ‘fritole’ are cooked and served on a spit (*1): this is used to ensure better cooking and to avoid getting hands dirty when tasting them. Nowadays, just a couple of Venetian pastry shops make the ‘fritole’ this way.

*1: The spit probably consisted of a thin bamboo cane.

The ‘wind frittelle’ by Messisbugo.

1549

, the recipe book known as ‘Banchetti composizione di vivande e apparecchio generale’ (‘banquets, food and general organization’) is published (*1). It’s a good reference point for all those who want to learn something about the Italian gastronomy in the Renaissance. The author is Christofaro of Messisbugo, intellectual, politician and diplomat of the Sixteenth Century. Among the recipes, the ‘frittelle a vento’ (‘wind frittelle’): a kind of pastry very similar to the Venetian ‘fritoe’.

Note:
*1: Posthumous.

'Haman's ear' (img-12)

The ‘Haman’s ears’.

E

vidences about the presence of a Jewish community in Venice date back to before the Year 1000. Over the centuries, a strong bond formed between this people and the city. This deep connection, existing still today, led to a mix of traditions: a very interesting example of it, especially considering the topic of this article, are the ‘Haman’s ears’.
Made with a kind of dough similar to that of galani, the ‘ears’ differ for the triangular shape and the presence of a filling.
They are prepared during the Purim (*1).

Note:
*1: Also known as the ‘Feast of Lots’. It’s celebrated in the sixth month of Adar (according to the Hebrew calendar) and marks the salvation of the Jewish people from the threat posed by Haman, the wicked advisor of the Persian king Xerxes I.

Venetian masks.

‘Frittelle’ in painting.

‘F

rittelle’ are a kind of dessert that can be found in many paintings, both Italian and foreign. Here follow some examples:
‘Venditrice di frittelle’: oil on panel, 1650, by the Dutch painter Gerrit Dou. Uffizi Museum, Florence.
‘Frittelle vendor’, oil on canvas, 1757, by the Italian painter Pietro Longhi. Cà Rezzonico, Venice.
‘Venditore di frittelle’, 1785, print by Gaetano Zompini, included in the book ‘Le arti che vanno per via (nella citta di Venezia)’.

How to make ‘galani’.

H

ere follows a short video (in Italian) showing the preparation steps for ‘galani’:

Beverages.

‘Malvasia’ wines for fritole and galani.

I

n the city of Venice, as in the rest of Europe, starting from the Middle Ages and for many centuries after, the ‘Malvasia’ or, better said, the ‘Malvasie’, were considered among the finest wines (*1). The plural (*2) has a reason since, at that time, the name was used for many wine varieties: they had in common to be sweet and aromatic (*4) and to come from lands overlooking the Eastern Mediterranean (*3).
Having good acidity, the ‘Malvasie’ were, and still are, the right choice to accompany sweet specialties like ‘fritole’ and galani.

*1: The Venetian nobles used to taste these wines in small shops, not surprisingly known as ‘malvasie’: the true ancestors of today’s wine houses.
*2: In Italian, ‘Malvasie’ is the plural of ‘Malvasia’.
*3: ‘Malvasia’ probably derives from ‘Monemvasia’, the name of a Greek city in the Peloponnese, located on an island for a long time under the control of the Serenissima.
*4: In truth, not all types of Malvasia were sweet: there was at least one quite dry, at the time known as ‘garba’.

Venetian mask.




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The following images are public domain:

img-01 (*) – ‘Saturnalia’, Antoine Callet, 1783 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-02 (*) – ‘Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi …’, B.Scappi, 17th century (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – ‘Frittelle vendor’, Pietro Longhi, 1757 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-04 (*) – ‘Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the Scuola di San Marco’, Canaletto, 1726 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-05 (*) – ‘The Grand Canal from the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi’, Canaletto, 1727 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-06 (*) – ‘Piazza San Marco’, Canaletto, 1730/34 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-07 (*) – ‘The Bucentaur on the mole on Ascension day’, Canaletto, 1740 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-08 (*) – ‘Patrician Torlonia’ (Catone), 1890-1910 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-09 (*) – ‘Sugar mill’, 18th cent. (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-10 (*) – ‘Playwright Carlo Goldoni’, Alessandro Longhi, 1750 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-11 (*) – ‘Woodcut Italian Kitchen’, 16th cent. (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}

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img-12 – ‘Hamantaschen’, image belonging to Yoninah (Wikipedia Link)

(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.