Nearly every holiday in Italy has its traditional dessert, but none is better than Carnival’s.
Called Carnevale in Italian, Carnival or Mardi Gras is a big deal in Italy. It’s celebrated for several weeks before Lent begins with the biggest and final bash on Fat Tuesday, the final day before Lent.
Though everyone knows about Venice’s traditional Carnival celebrations, there are parades and festivals throughout Italy, most notably in Ivrea with a massive food fight, Viareggio with even bigger floats and the flower-covered floats in Acrireale, Sicily, but every town has at least one day of parades for the kids to throw confetti and get dressed up.
And as with all holidays in Italy, there are also the traditional Carnival desserts, including my not-so-secret addiction: chiacchiere.
Stretched and fried dough that cooks crunchy and comes covered in powdered sugar, they’re simple but delicious and just the right amount of sweet.
The first time these innocuous desserts ended up in my kitchen I thought I’d just have one. But by the end of the day the box was basically done. They’re not everybody’s favorite, but I find them just sweet enough without being overpowering and simple enough to eat at any meal or time of day.
Because in general, I find Italy’s dessert game lacking.
Sure, gelato is the best, but the everyday cake and cookie game is flat-crusted pies and hard breakfast biscotti.
Where’s the texture? Where are the layers? Where’s the decadence?
Where Italy does shine, sweetly speaking, is during the holidays.
Even if you’re not a fan of panettone or pandoro, Italy’s traditional Christmas sweet breads, you have to admit that the country’s steadfast adherence to tradition is impressive. Easter has the colombo, an even sweeter type of sweet bread. There’s another bread for All Saint’s Day. Each season has its dessert.
Carnevale, a favorite in Italy, has a few desserts to call its own. Fried dough balls with various fillings abound, doughnuts and lemon-ricotta cake, but no fried treat beats my beloved chiacchiere.
The word chiacchiere actually means chatter and could be a stand in for gossip and the rumors that grow from that gossip, but every region has their own name for them.
Crostoli in Trentino, donzelle in Tuscany, Frappe in Emilia. My favorite is the Piedmont name, bugie, meaning “little lies.” It’s perfect for the mystery and anarchy of carnival season.
There’s something special about a sweet that you can only get for a limited period. For about a month every year Chiacchere will grace the shelves of supermarkets (avoid those) and fill the shop windows of bakers (go for those!).
They’re the perfect indulgence in a time of intrigue so you might as well get two – you won’t have another chance until next year!