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Caragnoli (Bows, fried pastry dough, without yeast, Christmas fritters, San Giuseppe / St. Joseph fritters)
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: Christmas, San Giuseppe, Carnival
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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For pastry dough
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Flour as needed (about 2 1/4 cups to 2 1/2 cups flour)

For deep frying
Vegetable oil*

For topping

2 to 3 cups of honey
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup icing sugar for dusting

* Prior to World War II olive oil was generally used for deep frying in Southern Italy, though lard was also sometimes used. Nowadays most North Americans of Italian origin use all-purpose vegetable oil; however, most professional cooks, Italian or otherwise, agree that peanut oil is best for frying as this oil doesn't leave an aftertaste. However those adverse to peanuts, can opt for canola oil as this too is good for frying.

**Spellings vary. Caragnole [Caragnole, singular, Caragnoli (plural); dialect, "carnjele," sometimes spelled caragnelle in North America.


1. Beat eggs.

2. Add sugar and mix well.

3. Add oil.

4. Mix baking powder and flour.

5. Add flour slowly to the egg, sugar and oil mixture and work into a fine dough (resembles a lasagna dough).

6. Divide the dough into two portions and shape them into balls. Wrap the dough-balls in clear plastic and place them in separate containers. Let the dough rest for 4 to 6 hours. [P.S. In the old days the dough was allowed to rest at room temperature, nowadays, those cooks concerned over the eggs spoiling, let the dough rest in the fridge.]

7. Remove one of the dough-balls out of the container and with a sharp knife cut a small piece of dough (about an inch wide). Pass the piece of dough through a pasta machine. Some cooks pass the dough right up to the last number, resulting in a very thin pastry panel, however this can result in fritters that break up very easily (though they do taste very good!). Most cooks pass the piece of dough to the second to last number. One can pass the dough twice or three times on the second to last number, getting a dough that is quite thin (about 1/8 of an inch), but not as thin as one would get if one used the last number on the pasta machine. Ideally, the panel should measure between 10 to 12 inches long, but the length of the panel doesn't matter all that much because the panels will be cut to size, besides, the bows can vary in length.

8. Using a serrated roller pastry cutter cut the pastry panel into strips -- about 6 to 8 inches long and 1 inch to 1 1/4 inches wide. Most home-made bow-shaped fritters vary in size and that's quite O.K. Making them is a labor of love, not a test of skill.

9. With the serrated roller pastry cutter make a small cut or slit (about an inch) in the middle of the strip; bring the end of the strip through the slit (This should result in a bow). Pinch the two sides of the dough together where the bow tie is made so that the caragnole can retain its shape.

10. Place the bow on a flat surface.

11. Repeat steps 3, 4, 5 and 6 for each piece of dough you cut. It's best to cut one panel at a time and turn that panel into caragnole as soon as possible as the dough hardens very quickly when exposed to the air and this interferes with the shaping of the fritter.

12. When all the bows are made, heat up the oil. To make sure the oil is the right temperature put a piece of fresh bread in it, if the oil sizzles, and the bread cooks evenly, then it's o.k. to start frying the bows. Fry the bows a few at a time, turning them over, until them are a golden color (If they turn brown, they'll taste burnt). The bows burn easily and break easily, so one has to be very careful. The cooking time varies, but generally it doesn't take more than two or three minutes for each bow.

13. Place the fried bows directly on kitchen paper towels so the excess oil is usurped. Cool.

14. To glaze the bows with honey, heat two to three cups of honey in a pan until it bubbles and then dip the bows one by one into the honey (Takes only a few seconds for the bows to be coated with honey).

15. Place the honeyed-glazed bows onto the prepared tray (Some cooks grease the prepared tray so that the bows will not stick to the surface). The bows are very sticky and it's best to keep them separated. Later when they are cooled, one can pile a few on top of each other, but they do break very easily, so it's best to present them in a large tray.

16. Alternatively, one can avoid steps 10 and 11 and simply dust the caragnole with icing sugar after they have been fried and have cooled.

17. Serve at room temperature (the fresher the better!).


For years I assumed this recipe was to difficult to do so I didn't bother. Recently, I did do it in order to take a picture (See attached) and found that it is not all that complicated. You do need patience, and the right tools. But if you like fried sweets, then this is the recipe for you. Also, for years (all my life, actually) I assumed that this type of fritter was only done for the Christmas holidays in Italy as this was what my mother has been doing for the past 50 years. Every Christmas and New Year's they show up on our table. Now, my aunt who lives in Hamilton, Ontario, tells me that caragnoli and screppelli -- why even cauciuni! -- were also made for the Carnival festivities. My niece's mother-in-law, Mrs. Carmella Romano, who also grew in Molise says that some households also made them for The Feast Day of San Giuseppe, St. Joseph. However, only those households that could afford them, did so. Poorer households limited the fritters to the Christmas holidays. At my maternal grandmother's house such was the case. Nonne Seppe had very little money coming in, so she only made caragnoli for Christmas and cauciuni for The Feast Day of San Giuseppe (She never made both kinds of fritters at the same time!). However, at my paternal grandmother's house -- Nonna Assunta's -- various fritters were made for the holidays as her household was better off. Years ago as a young broad I wasn't all that interested in Italian culinary history (Or history, period!) so I didn't ask the questions that I would now like answered. And now it's too late.... Well, not exactly. Luckily, I still have quite a few relatives (including my mother) to draw on. Everyone I turn to tries really hard to give me the information I am looking for, but often the information is contradictory, so I am back to square one.... One thing I (or anybody else for that matter) can be sure of is that the poor had a harder time making ends meet (What else is new?) so they would have been rather selective in the kinds of foods they would have prepared for the various holidays. In the 1950s those Italians who immigrated to Canada found that food was relatively cheap here so they had the option of cooking their favorite sweets whenever and however they liked. For the first 25 years or so traditions were upheld, and those fritters associated with certain festivities were made when they showed up. But by the 1980s most Italians fried their pastry dough or baked their cookies whenever they felt like it.... So to make a long story short, it seems (as far as I can gather) that prior to World War II well-to-do households in Molise made the region's now famous caragnoli and cauciuni for Christmas, New Year's, Epiphany, The Feast Day of Saint Joseph and Carnival, but poorer households generally limited these fritters to one or two of the festivities mentioned.... One more thing it seems that in Italy (unlike in North America) Carnival is an important festive event. Prior to World War II most people celebrated it by making fritters, including those who lived in the Southern Italian countryside. Back then children went around "trick or treating" as part of the Carnival festivities (Almost in the same way as North American children do for Halloween). In any case, Italian children were given various foods as treats, but not fritters. What fritters were made were generally offered to one's immediate family. After World War II, those Italians who immigrated to North America, noticed that the locals did not make a fuss about Carnival (except perhaps in New Orleans) and so they too started to ignore the holiday. However, in the 1970s, after Venice's Carnival celebrations started to get world-wide media attention, many Italians in North America renewed their interest in it. A number of North Americans of Italian origin began going to Carnival parties held at halls or restaurants etc.... Still, few Italians started making Carnival fritters again, possibly because "it was too much trouble" or possibly because no one did them anymore (The tradition was lost for good!).... Yet one more thing -- according to my Zia Rosina, the caragnoli made in Casacalenda, Molise, prior to World War II, were not shaped like half bows. The fritters looked like spirals. According to my aunt the design cannot be duplicated as one would need special equipment to make them. Apparently, prior to World War II, cooks used old spools from looms that were used to weave linen to mark the pastry strips. As no one had looms in Canada, no one had spools either. Actually, not all households in Italy had looms either, so the spools were often borrowed from one household to the next. In any case, the spools were used to make decorative wedges in the uncooked dough, so that after the dough was rolled around in a circle, the end result was quite something to behold. My aunt promised to show me one day (See the recipe entitled, "Rosina's Caragnoli" to get an idea of what the design might have been like). Possibly that's why some cookbooks refer to similar-shaped fritters as "pin wheels." So much I don't know. Where are the food historians when you need them...? Photo: Mary Melfi.

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