Christmas Culinary Tradition: Cartellate Pastries from Puglia
Wine cookies abound in Italy. These cookies don't just pair well with wine, but they also make a tasty addition to the dessert table. That's because, in part, wine as an ingredient adds a new flavor profile to the cookie, while also not making the treat too sweet, even though the wine evaporates during the cooking process. Cartellates are one such wine pastry, and you can bet they'll be on every table in Puglia this holiday season, as they're an important Christmas culinary tradition. Every family has their own version of cartellate, and many don't share their recipe with anyone but the next generation.
Even so, there's something all cartellate recipes have in common. The original recipe originated with the Greeks who brought their own version of the pastry over. In Italy, the recipe evolved, mainly due to Christianity, and became an offering to the baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary at Christmastime. Today, the design of the delicate pastry looks like ribbons, which symbolizes the crown of thorns or, according to some, the Baby Jesus's clothes.
All cartellates are made with flour and, of course, some sugar. Some recipes, like the one from Chef Rita of our cooking vacation "Discovering Puglia," calls for extra virgin olive oil. The toppings and decorations vary from family to family recipe, but, as with Chef Rita's cartellate recipe, honey (or grape syrup), cinnamon powder, and more white wine are all popular components.
To make this Christmas treat, roll out very thin strips of dough (after all, the Italian word 'carta' translates to paper), and form the dough into the shape of a flower. After they're fried, they'll also be very dry, otherwise they could very easily fall apart. If the finished pastry isn't already loaded with sweet toppings, some families dunk the fried dough pastry into a wine syrup called vincotto. Alternatively, they can be dunked into honey. However you enjoy them, cartellates are a tasty Christmas treat in Italy, and ones that we can recreate here in the United States to celebrate the holiday as well!
By Liz Hall