(Ciambelline di Patate e Crostoli)
Mardi Gras in America!
Carnevale is a huge holiday in Italy, especially in Venice, where mysteriously masked and ornately dressed people stroll the streets in the days leading up to mercoledì delle ceneri (Ash Wednesday). Mardi Gras, especially in New Orleans on “Fat Tuesday” (martedì grasso) is more of a drunken bash with “well-primed” tourists earn and collect beads by “showing us what you got” ~ classy, huh?! Regardless of the costuming—or lack thereof—Carnevale and Mardi Gras do share a common thread with regard to celebration food—desserts!
In Italy, Carnevale treats tend to be fried doughs coated with sugar or honey. In the photo above are Nonna’s “Ciambelline di Patate” (“Potato Donuts”) and “Crostoli” – fried diamond-shaped pieces of dough, dusted with powdered sugar. The Ciambelline are rolled in granulated sugar. As far as desserts go, the Italians tend to be less decadent than we Americans.
“King Cake” is a Mardi Gras tradition where a small plastic baby or crown is baked into a large ring shaped cake, frosted and coated in colored sugar (purple, green and gold). The person who finds the “King”—the Baby Jesus or his crown, is the person who has to bring the cake to the next year’s celebration. My first King Cake was a little disconcerting when, upon taking a large bite of cake, I realized I was sucking on a small plastic infant. Sorry, Baby Jesus! And people wonder why I avoid the cake to this day?!
Here in Alabama, where the Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile predates the more infamous bash in New Orleans, there is a tradition of throwing Moon Pies during Mardi Gras weekend parades. Southern folklore says that at a Mobile Mardi Gras debutant ball, a wealthy father had cases of Moon Pies brought in from Tennessee as party favors for his daughter’s debut. They were such a hit that the tossing of Moon Pies during Mardi Gras parades became a tradition that was soon co-oped by New Orleans.
So, in the spirit of Mardi Gras weekend and all of the parades, in Mobile and New Orleans, here is my recipe for homemade Moon Pies—sorry, no King Cake, with crowns or babies. These Moon Pies are more decadent than the commercially produced ones—mine uses dark, bittersweet chocolate for the coating. Sorry Nonna, though the donuts and the powdered sugar diamonds were really good by showing how the Italian sense of a dessert “sweet” is subdued, there is something about our American sense of decadence that makes the Moon Pie a perfect Mardi Gras treat—whether thrown at you during a parade or lightly tossed around your kitchen.
Buon Appetito~ and “Let the good times roll!” (“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”)
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour (graham flour is preferred, but difficult to find)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao)
1 tablespoon shortening
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together both flours, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the milk and vanilla. In batches, stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined. Turn out the dough onto plastic wrap, pressing into a flat round, wrapping tightly and refrigerating for 30 minutes.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick. Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut dough into 24 cookies (knead together the scraps and re-roll to make all of the cookies).
Place the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies have set up and are just starting to lightly brown on the bottom. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely.
One at a time, spread marshmallow creme on the bottom of a cooled cookie and top with another cookie (cookie bottom toward the creme). Repeat with remaining cookies making 12 sandwiches total. Place the cookie sandwiches in the freezer (or refrigerator), while preparing the chocolate coating.
In a double boiler (a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water), melt the chocolate and shortening together, stirring until the shortening is well incorporated into the chocolate. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove the sandwiches from the freezer and, one at a time, place a sandwich into the chocolate mixture, turning with tongs to coat both sides, allowing excess chocolate to run off, and place the coated sandwich on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches. When all are coated, place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to cool the sandwiches completely (30 minutes). Separated by wax paper, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Eat chilled or at room temperature. Makes 12 moon pies.