Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, is traditionally the day before the beginning of Lent. During this Catholic holiday lasting forty days, followers of Lent should avoid eating meat and other fatty or sweet foods, which is why Shrove Tuesday is the day they feast and treat themselves to a special meal. You might have guessed that we do not eat pancakes on this special occasion in Italy, as each region makes their own traditional cakes. In Sardinia we have zeppole, in dialect Zippuas, very tasty fritters that look like doughnuts and taste of saffron and orange. The four days leading up to Shrove Tuesday in Italy are known as Carnival, a word that comes from a Latin expression that means “to give up meat”, and is celebrated by dressing up in colourful costumes. The most famous Carnivals in Italy are those of Venice and Viareggio, yet in Sardinia we also have a very traditional one at Mamoiada, where it is possible to see the ancient masques, Mamuhtones, and enjoy several shapes of zippuas.
500g type 00 flour
1 orange (zest and juice)
1 cube active beer yeast (or about 7g active yeast)
Some threads of saffron
1 sachet of vanilla flavoured yeast for cakes
A splash of aquavit (I didn’t have any Fil’e Ferru at home, so I used a good Kirsch)
Seed oil for frying
Step 1 – Clean and peel a potato and put it to boil until ready to be mashed. In the meantime, grate the zest of an orange and then juice it. Once the potato is ready, mash it making sure you have no solid chunks of potato left. Beat the eggs with the saffron and leave on the side. Warm up the milk and melt the cube of beer yeast in it, being careful not to heat up the milk too much.
Step 2 – Now you can start making your dough. This dough should stay warm, so I suggest you make this cake on a day when your kitchen is warm. For example, I made it the same day I baked bread and kept the door closed for the whole preparation time, making sure the kitchen stayed nice and warm. Also, make sure the bowl you use for the mixture is warm (you can fill it up with hot water and empty it just before starting). Put the flour in your warm bowl, add in the luke-warm milk and start working the dough with your hands. Add the orange zest and juice and keep kneading.
Step 3 – Add the mashed potato and work the dough more. Mix in the beaten eggs and keep kneading with energetic movements so the dough keeps warm. Then add the aquavit and finally the powder vanilla yeast. At this point, in order to make sure the dough becomes homogeneous finish working the dough with the kneading hooks of your hand mixer. Place your dough in a big warm container and once you cover it with cling film, put it in the oven to prove. The oven should be at temperature zero and with only the light on.
Step 4 – After proving, the dough should have at least doubled in size and you are ready to fry. Heat some oil in a frying pan; you are going to deep fry, so be generous. Wet your hands in oil and take a bit of dough in your hands and try to create a ring shape. Put your doughnut in the hot oil, using a disposable chop stick (or try with something thicker like the handle of a wooden spoon) to keep the hole in shape. Fry them until golden and put them on a tray covered on kitchen paper so the residue oil can be absorbed. Remember, Carnival is all about laughing at ourselves and not taking life so seriously – it’s OK if your zeppole are not perfectly shaped, mine were quite messy as well!
Step 5 – Whatever shape they are, cover your zeppole in sugar and serve them warm! Have you heard of zeppole before? If you try them, let me know how it goes!Follow @blenderbasil