The Apulian culinary tradition is known throughout the world for being rich in recipes with strong flavors, based on genuine and simple ingredients.
Even at Christmas we find this characteristic in traditional sweets; Christmas sweets of Puglia can be enjoyed throughout the region at organized events or Christmas markets, in the streets of towns and villages.
Here are the best-known Christmas sweets of Puglia.
The cartellate are made from a mixture of flour, olive oil and white wine. The dough, made very thin, is cut into strips with the wheel and each strip is wrapped around itself to create, joining the edges, a sort of crown. There are those who prefer to let the cartellate dry a whole night before frying them in hot oil, and those who skip this step and immediately give life to the crunchy crowns. Once dried, the cartellate are wetted in the vincotto – often mixed with honey – and decorated with sugar, hazelnuts or almonds.
The dessert is strongly linked to the Christian tradition. The shape would resemble the dahlia of St. Nicholas or the crown of the Magi, although the origin seems much older: a rupestrian painting from the 5th century BC found near Bari, that represents a dessert similar to the cartellate, offered as a first fruit to Demeter, goddess of the earth.
The typical Salento Purcedduzzi have different origins, in fact, they seem to have been brought by the Greeks at the Magna Graecia time.
The Purcedduzzi are small balls of sweet fried dough and their name (litterally “Little piglets“) derives from their round shape which reminds of little piglets.
In other places in Italy they are also known as Struffoli; they are fried and then wrapped in honey and garnished with pine nuts or toasted almonds, chopped hazelnuts or colored sprinkles, and cinnamon.
The mostaccioli, different from those known by this name in other parts of Italy, are toasted and vincotto almond biscuits covered with a layer of sweet cocoa or chocolate. The flavors of cloves, lemon peel and cinnamon are exalted. The ability to knead mandolas, flour, vincotto and hot water is the main prerogative for the success of these Christmas sweets.
One of the best known Christmas sweets of Puglia (in particular of Salento) is the Almond paste modeled in the shape of a fish, a Christian symbol representing the Child Jesus, and lamb at Easter, also a symbol of the Easter Christ. His recipe, which is based on the grinding of shelled almonds and sugar, apparently dates back to around the fifteenth century and seems to have been kept by the Benedictine nuns.
Another Christmas cake of Puglia are the Cuscinetti, small dough bundles, the same as the cartellate, which contains a heart of Almonde dough flavored with lemon peel. Once the dough is filled, it is left to dry, fried and passed over in sugar. They have the shape of a half-moon and in the popular tradition they refer to the pillow used for the Child Jesus sleep.