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Italian Cenci


Carnevale will be starting soon in Italy and these little delicious morsels called cenci are a traditional treat during that time.  They are very much like the elephant ears we have in this country - fried pieces of dough, dusted in powdered sugar.  There are many different recipes for them and different names.  I've made mine with the fresh taste of orange zest and a little rum.  


I rolled out the dough with a pasta maker, but if you don't have one this dough is very easy to work with. You can cut the dough into 4" strips and fry them, or you can tie the strips into bows, which I like to do.  

When frying these in hot oil, lowering them in with something is a little safer than dropping them in.  I like to do this with a spider, a handled strainer that I can also use to roll the cenci around in the hot oil and then lift them out and place them on paper towels to drain. 


for a printable recipe click here


  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoons confectioner's sugar 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 Tablespoons Vin Santo or Rum
  • Canola oil for frying

for the topping:

  • additional confectioners sugar
  • honey (optional)



Combine flour, baking soda, salt and the confectioner's sugar in a bowl and combine thoroughly.  Place mixture on the counter in a pile and make a well in the middle (like you do to make fresh pasta). 

Break eggs into the well.  With a fork, beat the eggs and then add the other ingredients to the eggs and whisk in. Start pulling the flour mixture into the egg mixture and combine.  Knead until a nice dough forms, adding a little more flour if you need it.  A pastry scraper helps with this process. Dust the dough ball with flour and wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes. 

Cut the dough into four pieces.  Roll each piece out until it is fairly thin - I used a pasta machine and rolled it out until setting #4.  With a pastry wheel, slice half-inch strips out of the sheets.  Cut these strips into 4-inch lengths.  You can either leave the strips like this to be fried, or tie them into bows, which I like to to do.  Place your unfried dough strips or bows onto a floured sheet pan (you will probably need two) until they are all done.

Heat the canola oil for frying until it is between 325° and 350° F.  If you don't have a fryer, just use a medium saucepan.  Pour enough canola oil so there is about 3 inches of oil.  You can test the temperature with a candy thermometer, if you have one.  If you don't, you can throw in a little scrap of dough when you think the oil is hot enough and see if it turns golden.  

When the oil is ready, place a few of the dough bows onto a spider and lower into the hot oil. Be sure to shake off the excess flour from the dough strips before frying them - too much flour will burn in your oil and make it unuseable much sooner. Fry the dough until it is golden - this will be a matter of seconds.  I like to take the spider and roll them around in the oil, so all the sides turn golden.  Remove with the spider and place on paper towels to drain and cool.  Repeat with remaining dough. 

When the dough has all been fried, dust generously with powdered sugar.  You can also add a little honey if you like, but I think it makes them a little too sweet. They last for several days at room temperature.


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Reader Comments (20)

Yum. I want to make this weekend.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

I love these! Both my "nonne" made thise. My paternal grandmother called them "crostoli" and my maternal grandmother called them "frappe". Whichever name you use, one thing is certain: they're delicious!

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFlavia

They look delicious! Going to try this week.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

Is there something non alcholic that I can use to replace the rum or Vin Santo?

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuzie

Love this, pinning. Not sure if I pin to pasta or Italian. Maybe both.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterangela@spinachtiger

My Mom called them "Crustella". She used longer 3/4" strips and tied them into very loose pretzel-like shaped knots. When her fingers could no longer work so deftly, she made wider 4" lengths, made a vertical slash in the center of each strip, turned one end over and into the slash to create a would-be knot. They were the best. Thanks for invoking the memory of these sweet treats and our very special, greatly missed Mom.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGinetta

Looks absolutely fantastic! I will certainly try this soon!

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan

My grandmother made these. I make them and we call them kruspa.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTina

I love those little pieces of fried dough - it's been a long time since I've seen or eaten them. Lovely photos as well.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Nova

Did every Italian grandmother make these? Mine sure did. Struffoli were always my favorite, and I think my Nana used the same recipe to make her bows as she did the little honey-covered confetti struffoli. I'm not sure we ever gave them a name, but we loved them anyway. I'm feeling very nostalgic and inspired, thanks!

This recipe seems very similar to what my Nana and her sisters made. She called them Guandi. Except for the substitution of rum for white wine, they sound the same, but look a little different. Can these be considered Guandi? They are delicious and I will definitely try to make these. They sound awesome.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersleepyeyes

Gorgeous photos Elaine wow. They look so tasty.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCathy

Way, way too tempting! Great photos too. Ken

January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKen Rivard

Awwww!!! Yes, these are wonderful during the time leading up to Easter . . . I'm quite sure that each region has their own name for these . . . in Rome we called them frappe' and there was a fried version and a baked version . . . this is sometimes served with saguinaccio and some versions of the dough recipe have eggs whilst others do not. Such sweet memories of CARNEVALE!

January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeNissa

Oh wow these look good! This brings back many memories of my aunts making these together for special occasions. Unfortunately I haven't had them in many many years. You got me at the honey dripping! A platter of these and a pot of coffee, I'm in!

January 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

My mom made these and struffoli every Christmas growing up in Brooklyn. Your blog brings back so many beautiful, happy memories.

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTerri

My noni made these and called them crustoli. I asked her to write the recipe for me and of course everything was an estimate because she didn't measure when she made them. I still have the recipe in her handwriting and I chuckle every time I read the ingredient " whisky one big shot"

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaddie

Wow, that looks amazing! I may have to try this one out! Homemade anything is fun to make.

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTiana Kai

Looks so beautiful and tasty!!

January 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulieD

These look amazing, can you substitute anything different for the orange zest? Or is it even required in the recipe? Was thinking maybe just a small amount of vanilla might be yummy too! Thank you!

February 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori Clark

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