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Chiacchiere, castagnole, graffe: Six of Italy’s most popular carnival sweets

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Chiacchiere, castagnole, graffe: Six of Italy’s most popular carnival sweets
A variety of sweets can be seen inside an Italian pastry shop. Photo by Valentina Locatelli on Unsplash

Italy is known the world over for its dazzling carnival celebrations – but its traditional festival sweets are just as exciting.

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Spending carnival in Italy is not just a chance to dive into a variety of exciting masked revelries and flamboyant parades, but also a golden opportunity to feast on a number of traditional sweets that are in no uncertain terms a fundamental part of any respectable carnevale experience in the country. 

Each Italian region has its own carnival desserts, but there are some treats whose scrumptiousness has long been known well outside of regional borders, becoming popular in multiple parts of the country.  

Chiacchiere 

The chiacchiere are possibly the most ‘ubiquitous’ of Italian carnival pastries as the sweet can be found in most regions at carnival time. 

Though they’re known under different names (for instance, frappe in Rome and cenci in Tuscany) and recipes tend to vary slightly from region to region, chiacchiere (literally meaning ‘chatter’) are thin strips of crisp, deep-fried dough sprinkled with a generous amount of icing sugar and occasionally flavoured with orange or lemon zest.

The origins of this sweet are believed to date as far back as Roman times, when they were known as frictilia and prepared to celebrate popular pagan festivals such as the Saturnalia and Bacchanalia.

Castagnole

The castagnole are a popular carnival sweet in multiple areas of central and northern Italy which are believed to have been first created by Carlo Nascia, chef for the Farnese family in Parma, in the late 17th century.

They are fried dough dumplings flavoured with lemon zest and served with icing sugar or honey.

Occasionally, you’ll find them filled with custard, cream or chocolate.

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Cicerchiata

The cicerchiata is a popular carnival dessert in Molise, Marche, Abruzzo and Umbria. 

It consists of small balls (around one centimetre in diameter) of fried dough arranged in a circle and then ‘glued together’ with honey. 

The sweet is then sprinkled with toasted almonds or candied fruit.

Graffe

The graffe are one of Naples’ most famous (and beloved) Carnival sweets along with the migliaccio (semolina and ricotta cake) and sanguinaccio dolce (blood pudding).

They are sugar-coated rings of fried potato dough similar in shape to ordinary doughnuts.

The origin of this dolce can be traced back to the 18th-century period of Austrian rule in the region, with the graffe being a reworking of German Berliners.

Pignolata glassata

Originally from Messina but now popular elsewhere in Sicily, the pignolata glassata consists of fried oval-shaped dough balls (similar to pigne, or pine cones) covered in chocolate and lemon-flavoured syrup. 

A different version of the sweet is popular in Calabria, where the pigne are glued together with honey and occasionally topped with crushed almonds or hazelnuts. This is known as pignolata al miele ('honey pignolata'). 

Tortelli

The tortelli milanesi are fluffy balls of fried dough served plain or filled with custard or chocolate cream.

They are a staple of Milan residents’ diet over carnevale but can be found elsewhere in northern Italy. 

The original tortelli recipe is believed to date back to the Middle Ages.

This is a non-exhaustive list of popular carnival sweets. Have we missed your favourite delicacy? Let us know in the comments below.

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