Monday, December 19, 2011

Italian Christmas Cookies - Cenci alla Fiorentina

This December, Stephanie (my son’s girlfriend) and I made delicious Italian Christmas cookies called Cenci alla Fiorentina or as she also calls them - ‘Ewonds’. She is American and has Italian ancestors and here is her Grandma’s recipe. Thanks to Stephanie’s Mom for writing it down!

Preparation time: 1 hr +
Frying time between 1 - 2 minutes per batch
Deep Fryer Temp: 350 Degrees F (180 C).

  • 4 cups good quality all-purpose flour (Grandma and Stephanie’s Mom use ‘Gold Medal’ – we used Odlums)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (Her mother recommends Wesson)
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Vegetable oil for frying (Wesson)
  • ¾ cup of confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling
To make the pastry:

In a deep bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and mix it up thoroughly. Next make a well in the middle bringing the flour up the sides of the bowl. Then add the eggs, oil and vanilla extract.

With your hands, mix the flour down into the middle. The entire kneading process will take at least a good 15 minutes or so. Once the mixture is combined, dump it out on the table and continue kneading the dough until it is completely smooth and elastic. When you press your finger in the dough, it should spring back. Place it back in the bowl, cover with a towel and let it rest for approximately 20 minutes.

Break the dough into small balls. Do not add flour to the table before rolling it out. There is enough oil in the mixture to keep it from sticking. (Stephanie mentioned that it actually felt like a good hand moisturizer!)

Then begin to roll out the dough with a normal rolling pin or an Italian one – a mattarello. (When it was about 1/8” thick, Stephanie switched to a double-ended pastry roller to speed up the process.) She brought this one back from America. I had never seen one like this before in Ireland.

At this stage, you could use a manual pasta machine if you have one, to get the pastry dough paper thin. The pastry has to be almost transparent; you need to be able to see the table or countertop through it.

Next, cut it into diamond shapes with a wavy pastry cutter - each side should be approx 3” long. Then cut two straight slits into the middle of each shape.
Carefully lift up a piece at a time, pull up the centre, take one corner and push it through the loop creating a bow. Place all the bows on a cookie sheet before you begin frying. When the sheet is filled, cover with a towel to keep them from drying out.

Frying the cookies:

Once all the dough is rolled, cut and tied, heat a deep pan with about 3-4 inches of vegetable oil until very hot. When the frying begins turn down the oil so that it does not burn. Cook about 6 cookies at a time, 1-2 minutes for each batch and take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon. Place on a paper towel to drain, then immediately sprinkle with some icing sugar because you want the sugar to stick.

As they cook, place them in a large container lined with wax paper. As you complete a layer, sprinkle the confectioner’s sugar over the cookies. Repeat the cooking, sprinkling and layering until all the ‘ewonds’ are done. They taste light and crispy and not too sweet.

 Cenci alla Fiorentina are also associated with the Epiphany and Carnevale and they are a lot of fun to make. They are very similar to 'Chiacchiere' and go very well with a chocolate dipping sauce. See MariaGiovanna's wonderful new blog Sharing My Italy for her recipe. 

 Do you recognize this recipe and what do you call these cookies?
Buon Natale!


  1. Dear Nora, your cookies look very tasty! Thank you for a very detailed and visual presentation of the process. It seems to me that we also have a Russian version of these cookies. We call them "khvorost" - dry wood.
    I wish very Merry X-mas to you and your charming family!

  2. Grazie Tatiana! It is interesting to hear that you have a Russian version of these cookies!

    Best wishes,

  3. My Grandma made these for us every time we visited her in NY. She called gem "Bow Ties"

  4. Nora, this recipe is so much like my mom's. I wrote down the ingredients, and measured them...while she was alive. She brought my recipe book to my sisters, and never brought it back.
    When I asked my sister for the book, she said she didn't have it. Thank you for this recipe, I now can make them.

  5. My family has made these for 4 generations and we call them Crustolies (Crust-O-Lees)
    One (or 4) batch(es) are never enough.