Italian Jews have many fried foods in common with the Christian community: zeppole, a ring of fried dough, was served at Jewish weddings in the Roman community – and is also considered a popular snack served on the feast of St. Joseph. Struffoli (also known as Cicerchiata), tiny sugar-dipped donuts that Italian Jews prepare at Hanukkah and serve in a graceful pile, and Christians serve at Christmas, arranged in a ring shape and decorated with sprinkles.
The fritella di Hanukkah are mentioned in the book by Edda Servi-Machlin, who documented the life of the Jewish community in Pitigliano – one of the oldest Jewish communities in Italy. She says, “This recipe was my aunt Argia’s specialty. During the eight days of the holiday, Aunt Argia would get up at dawn and prepare fritella for all the family members. Right at noon, she would knock on our door with a big plate of hot and fragrant fried dough in her hands.”
Fritella are a kind of low-rise sufganiya, seasoned with anise and studded with raisins. Machlin’s recipe turned out to be very successful and the result is a delicate and unique flavor. We only made a few changes to the original recipe: we soaked the raisins in brandy to refine their texture, and added grated lemon peel. Please note: there is almost no sugar in the dough (they are soaked in sugar syrup after frying), so the donut hardly browns and therefore it is a bit difficult to know exactly when they are ready. Besides following the times listed in the recipe, you should fry one donut as a test, and check if the dough is done on the inside as well – that way you will know exactly how long to fry them.
Ingredients for Fritella di Hanukkah
- 1.75 oz (50 grams/ 1 cube) fresh yeast
- 1-1 ¼ cups (240-300 ml) water lukewarm
- 3 cups (420 grams) flour
- 1 tablespoon Sugar
- grated lemon peel from one lemon
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 2 teaspoons ground anise
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup raisins soaked in brandy or amaretto and drained
For the Syrup:
- 1½ cups honey
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1. Dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water.
2. Mix flour, salt and anise seeds in a mixer bowl with a kneading hook. Add the water with the yeast and olive oil and knead for 2 minutes at a slow speed, until the dough just comes together. If flour remains at the bottom of the bowl, add a little more water, spoon by spoon, until there are no flour deposits. Put on slow-medium speed for 8-10 minutes until you get a smooth and flexible dough, which can be stretched without tearing easily.
3. Lightly flour a work surface and transfer the dough to it. Flatten the dough a little with your hands, sprinkle raisins on it and fold the dough over them. Continue to fold and knead the dough with your hands, until the raisins are absorbed into the dough. Gather the dough into a ball, cover with a towel and let rise for about an hour, until the dough doubles in size.
4. Roll the dough into a .4 of an inch (1 cm) thick rectangle. Set aside for 15 minutes. Cut into 36 5x5 cm rhombuses with a sharp knife.
5. Let the dough rise for 30-45 minutes
6. Heat oil for deep frying in a large, wide pot: if you have a thermometer, heat the oil to 350F (180C) degrees. If you do not have a thermometer, place a small piece of dough in the oil; the oil should gently bubble around it.
7. Fry for about 3 minutes on each side, until the edges of the dough are slightly golden; there is not much sugar in the dough, so it won't turn a deep golden. If you want to make sure that the fritella are completely fried, you can take out one of them and break it in half. While frying, make the syrup.
Prepare the Syrup:
8. Heat honey and lemon juice in a small pot, until you get a smooth and liquidy syrup. Drizzle the syrup generously over the hot fritella and serve immediately.