Sweet Traditions

Ceci cakes (left) and Pizzelles (right)

Christmas and New Years have come and gone but the pounds added from gorging on holiday treats will be here for awhile.

While I certainly went overboard on portions at holiday meals, it really is the sweets that do me in at this time of year. The cookies are overly abundant but my real weak spot is for two particular treats that only seem to come my way at years end.

The first holiday favorite is pizzelles.

Pizzelles are considered one of the oldest cookies. It is generally believed that they originated in the Abruzzo region of Italy in ancient times to mark an annual celebration. Initially baked over an open fire with relatively simple but effective irons, the early pizzelles often were proudly embossed with the family crest or some hint of the village of origin. Over time it became tradition to use pizzelles to celebrate any holiday or festive occasion, but inevitably there are pizzelles for everyone at Christmas and Easter.

Pizzelles are certainly available year round and are even available on grocery store shelves. But only homemade will do for me and it’s at Christmastime that I really start looking for them. Fortunately for me (unfortunately for my waistline) both my sister and a good friend make them and see that I don’t go without this powdered sugar dusted treat.

The other favorite Christmas confection I favor is the Ceci (chee cheh) cake. The closest I can come to describing them is a fried ravioli made from a sweet dough and a fudge-like filling incorporating a mixture of pound cake, chopped nuts, raisins and cocoa moistened with honey. The namesake ingredient, ceci beans (chick peas, garbanzo beans) are mashed and incorporated into the filling. It sounds odd, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

For whatever reason, this treat is only prepared and served for the Christmas holiday. My father’s aunts and cousins’ wives all made these, but only in December. I’ve honestly never encountered them outside of the family and no other time than the year end holidays. (Coincidentally, there is some evidence that my family came from the same Abruzzo region that gave us the pizzelles.  Is it possible my preference is genetic?).

I don’t remember when my mother first started making the ceci cakes but I know that it has become a tradition that I help her each year. For the past few years my sister and niece have joined Mom and me for the two or three hours spent baking, joking and reminiscing. It’s the one event that can definitely ignite my usually smoldering holiday spirit.

Ceci Dough

  • 5 lbs. Flour (Start with about 3 1/2 lbs flour & add as moisture allows)
  • 6 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Vegetable shortening (melted)
  • 1 1/2 cups Sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups Water

Roll out dough, cut and fill like you would ravioli. Deep fry (375 degrees). Sprinkle with confection sugar.

Ceci Filling

For 5 Lbs. flour mixture use:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. Pound Cake
  • 2 cans Chick Peas crushed
  • 5 rounded Tbs. Powdered Cocoa
  • 2 1/2 cups Chopped Nuts
  • 1 lb.  jar Honey (heat to pour)
  • Sugar to taste
  • 1 box White Raisins

In a large bowl or pan mash the chick peas. Add crumbled up pound cake, cocoa and finely chopped nuts. Mix well. Add heated honey and mix completely.

===================================================

We’ve made some adjustments over the years. Now we use just 2 lbs. of flour and about half of all the other ingredients. And we’ve taken to frying them in an electric skillet instead of a deep fryer until they are a nice golden color. This yields us about seven dozen ceci cakes.

And it just wouldn’t be the holidays without them.

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