“Cicerchiata” cluster-cake is made up of tiny sweet dough fried beads. They are slathered with honey and decorated with almonds and colourful sugar bits. This cake is widely popular in Southern Italy, with subtle variations but with different names: in Campania it is called “struffoli”, in Calabria “cicirata” or “turdiddi”, in Umbria and Abruzzo “cicerchiata” and in Palermo “strufoli”.
As for the Abruzzese version, it is rooted into the Sangro area, which is well known for its top-quality honey. As a matter of fact, honey acts like glue and makes dough beads stick together and give the cake its unmistakable shape. Its name dates back to the Middle Ages and it seems to come from a legume resembling chick peas, i.e. cicerchiata.
The cake looks like a heap of “cicerchie” because of the great amount of dough beads that are required to make one.
Abruzzese “cicerchiata” recipe requires olive oil in the dough – butter is used for the other versions.
“This is my grandma’s recipe and it reminds me when I was a kid I used to smell the sweet aroma of warm honey as soon as I stepped into her house.”
My grandma used to decorate it with colourful sugar bits and almonds, but sometimes she used dark chocolate chips.
I tried to follow accurately her recipe and I wished to add some orange and cinnamon whiffs, a well-balanced pairing with our Abruzzese “Millefiori” (mixed-flower) mountain honey.
Cicerchiata is presented in single portions, nested in small dark chocolate baskets.
Appetibilis: Sara's Orange scented Cicerchiata
300 gr dark chocolate
500 gr wheat flour
4 medium eggs
4 table spoons of evo
4 table spoons of sugar
the zest of 1 organic orange
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
350 gr “Millefiori” honey
1 table spoon of sugar
100 gr chopped hazelnut
2 L vegetable oil for frying
Muffin silicone moulds or just crimped paper cups
On a wooden table place the flour, make a well in the centre, crack the eggs into it, add sugar, orange peel, olive oil and cinnamon. Knead until you get a smooth dough; cover it with a cloth and let it rest for about twenty minutes.
In the meantime let’s make chocolate baskets.
Melt chocolate in bain-marie and let it warm for a few minutes. Use a kitchen brush and carefully cover the inner part of the moulds with chocolate. Place them into a freezer for a couple of minutes, if necessary, brush again and let it cool.
Use a toothpick to remove chocolate baskets from the moulds.
Now back to our dough – divide it into smaller parts and roll each piece out using the palm of your hands until you get 1-cm thick rolls (easier if you wet your fingertips). Cut the roll into small and even beads, about 1-cm thick.
Heat some oil in a large saucepan (deep pot), and when hot throw the dough beads, roll them over frequently with a skimmer until they become gold-coloured. Take them out and transfer them to a paper towel to drain.
In another pan heat the honey and add a spoonful of sugar (this will help honey stick to the the beads). As soon as it darkens throw the beads into it, add the hazelnuts, take the pan out of the stove and mix until beads stick together.
On some greaseproof paper form small “cicerchiata” heaps, let them cool and once ready, detach each single bundle and place them into the chocolate baskets. Add some orange peel and a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts.