Tortelli di Natale

Little Christmas Cakes

These small cakes are a traditional pastry for Christmas from Bologna southward. Known by many different names, they have a history in almost every region, especially southern Italy and Sicily. Though there are subtle variations on name and ingredients, the idea remains the same — a thin dough pocket enclosing a chestnut or chick-pea filling flavored with chocolate and raisins or candied fruit. They may be dusted with confectioners’ sugar, as in this recipe, or drizzled with warmed honey or Vino Cotto before serving.

Ingredients

    Dough

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons mild olive oil, vegetable oil, or melted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons rum or brandy

    Filling

  • ½ pound fresh chestnuts
  • ½ cup apricot preserves
  • 3 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum or brandy
  • cup raisins, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten, for sealing
  • quarts light or pure olive oil or vegetable oil, for frying

Method

For the dough, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix. Whisk the oil, eggs, and rum or brandy together and stir into the dough with a fork. Continue stirring until the dough masses together, then scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Fold the dough over on itself several times, flour it well, wrap in plastic, and chill 1 hour.

For the filling, cut an X in the flat end of each chestnut and cook them in boiling salted water for about 20 minutes. Drain and peel the chestnuts. Place them in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and puree them. Add the apricot preserves and chocolate and puree again. Stir in the spices, rum, and raisins.

To form the tortelli, flour the dough and roll it out to a ¼-inch thickness. Pass the dough through a pasta machine until the third setting. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and pass each piece of dough through the machine’s settings, ending with the next-to-last setting.

Arrange the 4 strips of dough on a work surface and place the filling on the dough by teaspoonfuls at 4-inch intervals, about inches from the edge. Paint the dough around the filling very lightly with the beaten egg white on one strip at a time, then fold over the top half of the dough to enclose the filling, as in the illustration for Ravioli Dolci di Ricotta. Press well with your fingertips around the filling and cut the dough into 3-inch squares around the filling to form the ravioli, as in the illustration.

Arrange the tortelli on lightly floured pans and allow to rest at room temperature for about 2 hours. Heat the oil to 350 degrees and fry the tortelli about 6 at a time until they are a deep golden color, about 5 minutes, stirring them gently with a slotted spoon while they are frying.

Drain the tortelli on paper towels and cool.

Before serving, dust lightly with the confectioners’ sugar.

Confectioners’ sugar for finishing

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