Anything goes at carnival time! The famous proverb could not be truer: during this popular festival, which takes place until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, colorful floats parade along the street, with masks, confetti and streamers all around.
As well as being great fun for both young and old, carnival also brings many delicious traditional recipes. Here are some typical Tuscan sweets of this period:
Schiacciata alla fiorentina
Shrove Thursday (last day of Carnival celebrations) is also called Berlingaccio (from an ancient German term meaning to drink and chat). For this occasion, the tradition in Florence is to make Schiacciata alla Fiorentina, a dessert made with eggs, flour and sugar, with vanilla sugar on top. Even today, the cake is decorated with sugar made in the shape of the Giglio Fiorentino (Florentine lily).
Schiacciata was originally only a homemade treat, but now it can be easily found in pastry shops all over the city. There are also versions available filled with whipped cream, custard or gianduia.
Frati are the typical fried and sweetened donuts of Tuscany, especially appreciated during the Carnival period. The “real” frati are cooked and eaten on the spot, while still hot.
Zuccherini di Fucecchio
Zuccherino is the typical dessert of the Fucecchio Carnival. In the nineteenth century, peasant families began to prepare this anise-flavored dessert. The dough is very similar to that of a dry biscuit and is traditionally kept until Lent.
Berlingozzo, typical of the Pistoia area and in particular Lamporecchio, is a dessert with a distinct aroma of vanilla and orange. Vin santo and olive oil are also among the ingredients. The name seems to derive from the word Berlingaccio (old German word meaning drink or chat) given that it was typically eaten on giovedì grasso (Fat Thursday).
Frittelle di riso
The San Giuseppe Frittelle di riso (rice fritters), above all other Tuscan delicacies, are cooked for Father’s Day and during the Carnival period. It takes some time to prepare them, but they are absolutely worth it!
Cenci are rectangles of fried sweet pastry and a symbol of carnivale. The name derives from the particular shape it assumes when cooked, of cenci (shreds) or stracchi (rags).
They are also known as frappe, chiacchiere di monaca or orecchie di hamman in Livorno. In fact, it seems that they were introduced by the rather large Jewish community there. In Prato and in some areas of the Pistoiese they are called “Donzelle”.
Castagnole are fried dough balls sprinkled with powdered sugar. In some areas of Tuscany, they are also flavored with alkermes, the typical bright red liqueur, as well as the crucial ingredient of the famous sweet peaches.
Quaresimali are sweets in the shape of letters of the alphabet, cooked with bitter cocoa. They were traditionally prepared only in the period of Lent, that is, between Carnival and Easter.
Spongata della Lunigiana
Spongata is a typical festive dessert of Lunigiana. It’s a sweet cake filled with honey, bread, dried fruit, herbs and spices. In Pontremoli, on the occasion of Carnival, young people gave spongata to their girlfriends as a token of love and a promise of marriage.
Photo by Antonio Gravante