Cauciuni di Natale

Christmas Chickpea Pastries

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This Christmas Eve speciality from Molise is from an ancient recipe for little fried pastries with a sweet chocolate and citrus filling, the origin of which is lost in historical rituals. There are two particular Molisan customs connected with making cauciuni. First, the chickpeas are soaked out of doors overnight, preferably on a frosty night. Second, when testing whether or not the oil for frying the pastries is hot enough, it is traditional to make a wish for the coming year while you watch the first small piece of pastry sizzle in the pan.

Ingredients

  • 500 g/1 ¼ lb plain/all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 90 ml/6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 ml/¼ tsp salt
  • 10 ml/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60 ml/4 tbsp dry white wine
  • sunflower oil, for deep-frying
  • 45 ml/3 tbsp icing/confectioners’ sugar
  • 7.5 ml/1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon

For the Filling

  • 500 g/1 ¼ lb dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
  • 45 ml/3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 45 ml/3 tbsp caster/superfine sugar
  • 200 g/7 oz/generous 1 cup chopped candied citrus peel
  • 45 ml/3 tbsp clear honey
  • 30 ml/2 tbsp sweet liqueur of your choice, Amaretto or Maraschino

Method

  1. To make the filling, rinse the soaked chickpeas, then boil them rapidly for 5 minutes in some fresh water. Drain them and rinse once again, then cover with fresh water and simmer slowly for about 3 hours, or until completely tender and almost pulpy.

  2. Drain the chickpeas and push them through a food mill or a sieve or strainer to create a purée.

  3. In a large mixing bowl, mix the chickpea purée with the cocoa powder, caster sugar, citrus peel, honey and liqueur, using a wooden spoon, to make a smooth filling. Set the filling aside while you make the pastry, to allow the flavours to develop.

  4. To make the pastry, pile all the flour on to the work surface and make a hole in the middle with your fist. Pour the oil into the well with the salt, vanilla extract and half the wine.
  5. Knead the ingredients into the flour, adding the remaining wine, a little at a time, until you have a very smooth, shiny and elastic dough. You may not need all of the wine.
  6. Roll the dough out very thinly and cut it into 7.5cm/3in circles using a pastry or cookie cutter.

  7. Put a spoonful of filling on one half of each circle, fold in half and seal using the prongs of a fork.
  8. Heat the sunflower oil in a large pan or deep-fryer until a small piece of the pastry, dropped into the oil, sizzles and browns almost immediately.
  9. Fry the cauciuni in batches of four or five at a time. As soon as they are puffy and golden brown, remove them from the hot oil using a slotted spoon. Drain carefully on kitchen paper and keep them warm while you cook the rest.
  10. Dust generously with icing sugar and cinnamon, and serve piping hot.