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Scalette Calabrese sweet fritters fried dough
Scalette (Calabrese Christmas spiral-shaped fried dough, flavored with anise extract)
Originated from: Calabria, Italy
Occasion: Christmas holidays
Contributed by: Adapted from an Italian cookbook published in the 1980s

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1 cup flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1/8 cup butter, melted than cooled
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon anise extract

Vegetable oil for frying

For decoration
about 1/2 cup honey, warmed up


Mix flour, baking powder and sugar together.

Mix eggs, butter and anise extract together.

Mix dry ingredients with wet ones and work into a soft but firm dough (If the dough is too sticky, add a touch more flour, if it is too firm, add a touch more butter.).

Form the dough into a ball.

Lightly flour a wooden board, using a rolling pin roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick.

Cut strips of dough.

Using the palms of your hands, shape the dough strips into thin logs -- about 9 inches long and between 1/4 inch thick and 1/8 inch thick.

Dust a long wooden ladle handle (or thick pencil) with flour.

Wrap each log around the stick, forming long spirals.

Remove the scarlette and place on a cloth dusted with flour (on top the kitchen table). P.S. ALTERNATIVELY, one can wrap the dough around long, thick cannoli-style pastry tubes, made specifically for frying dough, and then the scarlette can be fried wrapped around the pastry tubes. This is a good alternative, as the shape of the dough is then kept quite easily. OR, one can freeze the shaped scarlette, and allow them to really dry out before frying.

Heat up the oil and fry one scarlette at a time until golden.

Drain on paper towels.

Heat the honey over low heat and then drizzle some honey on on the scarlette.

Allow to air-dry for about 30 minutes.

Serve as soon as possible.


This fritter is different from the usual Christmas fare often served around Christmas in Italy. First of all the dough is flavored with anise extract rather than vanilla or lemon zest, and second of all, it is shaped like a spiral. The spiral is supposed to represent "the staircase to heaven." I tried doing this fritter and though I liked the taste, I found it difficult to do. I found that the only way I could retain the shape of the spiraled dough was to freeze the scarlette prior to frying them (However, weeks later after trying this recipe, I realized that the easiest way to do these fritters is to wrap them around a cannoli-style pastry tube and then fry them. Actually, I tried this out and to my amazement the fritter retained its shape, making it not all that difficult to do. Still, the process is rather time consuming as the pastry tube gets hot, and one has to wait for it to cool and so on .....) Also, it makes more sense to drizzle the fritters with honey, rather than brush them with it, as the fritters are quite delicate, and can easily break. It is quite possible that in the "old days" this fritter might have been made with lard rather than butter (Butter was rarely used in the South, raising cows was far too expensive for the average subsistence farmer -- most did raise pigs, and so had a ready supply of lard). Olive oil might also have been used, but for pastries lard makes for a softer dough, so it's more likely lard was used. Also, in the old days, more people would have had access to aniseed seeds than to anise extract, so they might have flavored the fritter with the aniseed seeds rather than any thing that came out of a bottle. Still, because of the complex design, using butter makes it easier to manipulate the dough and that's why I would recommend it rather than lard; using extract over aniseed seed also makes it easier to manipulate the dough, the flavoring is more even as well..... Apparently, it seems that in other areas of the South, including Molise, this style of spiral-shaped fritter, was popular prior to World War II. According to my aunt, Zia Rosina Melfi, who grew up in Casacalenda, Molise, many home cooks made spiraled Christmas fritters in the 1930s. In fact, many households had special cooking gadgets -- thick wooden sticks called "petre" -- to help them form the spirals (For a photo of this utensil check out the last pages in this category.). However, around the 1950s, spiraled fritters became less and less popular. The rosette-shaped fritters which had also been popular in Molise continued to be done and are still done to this day, but as for the spiral-shaped ones they simply disappeared. I can't be 100 per cent sure home cooks aren't making them in some areas of the South, all I am sure of is that those Italians who immigrated to Montreal, Quebec (and whom I've come across) aren't making them anymore. I have never seen a spiral-shaped Christmas fritter at any event. Home cooks in Montreal seem to favor Tuscan-style vanilla-flavored, bow-shaped fritters. But what is truly popular are Neapolitan struffoli balls mounted in the classic mountain shape. One can't go to an official New Year's Celebration without seeing the beautiful mound of uniform-shaped balls on the table. The fritters look very pretty, but often, they're dredged in so much honey that the natural taste of the fried dough is lost. O.K. this is getting too personal, and may not be reflective of what the majority of Italian-Canadians think about all this.... Comments and photo: Mary Melfi.

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