Carnival sweet treats

Regional traditions, variations on a theme and recipes where a little guilty pleasure is a must

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At the same time every year during Carnival festivities, every town in the Emilia-Romagna region is awash with masks, confetti, light and colour. The streets are filled with festive spirit that brings a smile to the faces of adults and children alike, whilst home kitchens are busy making piles of heavenly sweets.

This is just one of the many traditions associated with this festive period, which historically marked the start of Lent, encouraging people to indulge, celebrate and break the norms, not only in life but also in what they ate.

Although nowadays, traditional Carnival desserts are made in many countries around the world, Italy's tradition uses the widest variety of ingredients. Emilia-Romagna in particular proves to have one of the most extensive collections of recipes, passed down from generation to generation to offer delicious versions of classic Carnival fare.


These are perhaps the most well-known of all traditional Carnival sweets. As the equivalent to the American pastries known as ‘angel wings’, these scrumptious pastries are fried in oil and lard and sprinkled with icing sugar. They are a favourite amongst adults and children alike.
Also known by other regional names in Italy (chiacchiere, bugie, frappe, cróstoli...), Emilia-Romagna sfrappole are shaped like stripes and are easy to make at home.


Originating from the simple country cuisine of Romagna, some say that these pastries are typical of the area around Ravenna. Records show that rice was once cooked in milk in this area and leftovers were later used to make these little delicacies. Crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, frittelline pastries can be fried in lard or oil, and prepared with a dash of grappa liquor or Marsala wine if desired.


Even a traditional pasta dish like tagliatelle can be transformed into a delectable dessert with a bit of imagination. Peasants in the Apennines knew this all too well, and during Carnival festivities would make this simple yet tasty recipe. These days, you will find this special sweet version of tagliatelle pasta just about anywhere, in a variety of different versions. Forget about the meat sauce though; icing sugar and orange peel are mixed into the pasta dough, which is then rolled and sliced into the classic ribbon-like pasta shape before being dunked into a deep-frying pan of seed oil.


A traditional treat from Reggio Emilia, intrigoni (also known in local dialect as intrigòun) are pretty similar to the fried sfrappole pastries from Bologna. You’ll find them in every bakery of the Reggio Emilia area during Carnival season. Intrigoni are made of sweet puff pastry, rolled out to be around 2-3 mm thick, with jagged edges that are created using a little wheel, and can be shaped into stripes, rings or twisted ribbons.


Castagnole are one of Emilia-Romagna's most traditional sweet treats. Although the origins of these little round pastries are uncertain, and they can be found in many culinary traditions across Central-Northern Italy, the best-known version is the one included in Artusi’s famous cookbook, "La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene" [Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well]. According to Artusi's recipe, these pastries consist of a soft and irresistable dough made with eggs, sugar, flour, butter and lemon zest, flavored with a little cognac or acquavite and fried, of course, in plenty of oil.


Typical of the Piacenza area, sgionfini or sgonfietti are very similar to cream puffs and indeed are often filled with custard or chocolate cream. However, they are also excellent without filling, simply sprinkled with icing sugar. To prepare them you need to boil a mixture of water, butter and salt and then add some flour. Once the dough has cooled, mix in the eggs and lemon zest before frying.


Another Carnival dessert from the Piacenza area are tortelli or turtlitt, a kind of sweet ravioli once eaten in the village of Sant'Antonio a Trebbia on the day of the patron saint (17 January) and now served mainly during Carnival. While the dough is quite simple - flour, eggs, butter, sugar, lemon zest, salt and white wine - the filling of these fried tortelli is a real explosion of flavours. In fact, inside we find a mixture of chestnuts, amaretti biscuits, Cremona mustard, cocoa, jam and liqueur.

Last update 05/02/2024
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