We’re so close to Christmas and baking is in a frenzy. I can see that many people are searching for turdilli recipes and my family’s turdilli recipe, which I featured last year, is very popular.
But there’s more than one way to make this traditional Calabrese fried cookie. Turdilli, also called tordilli, turdiddri or turtiddi depending on your dialect or how you want to spell it, almost always have the same base: flour, yeast, eggs and wine or flavoured alcohol. Then different families get a little crafty, kneading in their own flavourings (like orange zest) or additions (like dried fruits) or switching up the honey coating for fig syrup. Our family recipe, for example, includes coffee, cocoa, cinnamon and walnuts.
But if you don’t like those flavours, and want something more simple or that can be easily adjusted, then I have the turdilli recipe for you. This basic recipe is light on flavourings and creates pale-coloured turdilli. It can act as a base for any flavours or additions you want to mix in. My mom originally picked up this recipe from a great-aunt sometime ago who, we think, got it from a friend. The heading in her notes is “Turdilli di Paolina.” Who’s Paolina? Your guess is as good as mine. Let’s just say she’s a great-aunt to all of us, sharing her recipe so we can all enjoy. We adapted it a little bit ( of course the original recipe said “as much flour as is needed”) and it does make a lot (a lot!) so be sure to cut the recipe in half before starting out on your first try of this!
Turdilli di Paolina
2 cups oil
2 cups water (to boil)
1/2 cup warm water
1 envelope dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
13 cups cake and pastry flour, plus an additional half cup to flour the board when kneading
1 tablespoon liqueur or vanilla
Vegetable or another light-flavoured oil for frying
Honey for coating
(note: I’d recommend cutting this recipe in half)
In a small pot, heat the two cups of water to a boil and remove from the heat. Pour the oil into the water while stirring. Allow this mixture to cool to at least lukewarm.
In a small bowl or cup, add 1/2 cup of warm water and sprinkle in the sugar and the yeast on top. Stir together and let the mixture proof (come to bubble). This will take about five minutes.
While waiting for the yeast to proof, in a separate bowl, slightly beat the eggs with a fork and stir in your liqueur or vanilla. Adding the alcohol to the eggs stops the oil from frothing up when frying, plus it also adds flavour.
Once your yeast is ready, it’s time to start pulling together the dough. On a board, pour out your flour and mix in the salt. Make a well in the middle and add in the yeast mixture and water/oil mixture. Begin to combine the flour into the liquid with a fork. As the centre mixture becomes thicker, you can cut in the flour with a pastry scraper until the dough can be kneaded by hand.
Knead until smooth. (You can also put the dough together in a stand mixer, if you so choose). Put the final dough ball in a large bowl and cover it, allowing it to rise until it has doubled in size.
After the dough has risen (it can take up to 1-2 hours), punch down the dough to deflate it. Cut off a piece of dough and roll it into a long roll, about a 1/2 inch thick. Cut the roll into one inch pieces and roll on a basket or gnocchi maker to make a ridged design. (These ridges look nice but also hold the honey you coat the cookies in!)
You want to get the turdilli into the fryer very soon after you roll them, within 10 minutes or so, or else the cookies will start to rise again and become very large. Coat the bottom of a deep frying pan with 1 to 1 1/2 inch of oil and heat on medium high. When the oil comes to temperature, fry the turdilli until a light golden colour being sure to turn them so they cook evenly on both sides.
Remove the turdilli to a colander to drain any excess oil. When all your turdilli are fried, you can move on to the sweet part. Heat some honey in a pan with about one tablespoon of water on medium-low heat until foamy. Add the turdilli to coat. When just coated, remove to a plate.
In my opinion, turdilli are best eaten warm after they been coated in honey. But there are also plenty of people who love them at room temperature. You can also freeze the uncoated or coated turdilli and warm them up later to serve for the holidays.