Catholic Recipe: Pettole
This is the recipe of the typical cakes made in Italy for the Feast of St. Cecilia. It is cooked during the Christmas holidays also.
A Christmas treat, as told by Bianca Tragni in Altamura Antichi Sapori:
A woman was making bread, her hair tied up under a white kerchief, her sleeves rolled up, sinking her fists into the compact ball of dough. She was working it, turning it, squeezing it, flattening it out, flipping it, rolling it, and balling it up, putting all her energy into making the bread for her family, which still slept. It had to be ready to go into the oven at three and she worked, back bowed, over the firm elastic mass. Then she heard singing and voices carrying through the night, and looked out onto the street, where she saw the shepherds running towards a shining light, crying out that the Savior was born. She wanted to see too and said, "I'll lay the dough down, cover it. I'll have plenty of time to go and come back before it's risen."
She slipped off her apron and kerchief, donned the great shawl that wrapped her from head to toe, and went out with the others. She went to the cave, saw the Babe, and knelt in prayer. But when she finally got home she found the dough over-risen: A fluffy, flaccid, sticky, bloated thing that burst out in all directions. She couldn't handle it, gather it together, or do anything with it, and cried out, "My God, how am going to make bread?"
Those returning from the manger heard her wails and stopped to ask her what was wrong. She began tearing off pieces of dough and giving them out, and the dough kept growing, bloating, getting stickier.
"It's no good for making bread any more, it can't go into the oven. My children without bread, I'm ruined because I went to see the Baby Jesus!"
"Don't blaspheme," the others said. Here's some freshly pressed oil. Heat it up." Thus her friends and neighbors tossed the bits of dough into the pot, and as it touched the hot oil it expanded, blowing up, hissing and crackling, and giving off the most divine perfumes: Miraculous delight!
Thus was born the pettola, the Christmas bread given to the poor by Baby Jesus.
Combine the flour with a pinch of salt, and enough water, and the yeast, to obtain a smooth, very soft, elastic dough. Knead it well and set it to rise for at least a couple of hours in a warm draft-free place until it doubles in volume. Remember, you want something fluffier than regular bread dough. Take with a table spoon bits of dough, and fry them in the hot oil. Serve them with white sugar.
If you want to create an authentic Italian taste dip your fingers in dry white wine, pluck off and stretch out bits of dough, and fry them in the hot oil. As variations, you can include bits of anchovies, by putting folding the stretched dough over them and restretching it out again, and frying it. Or, you can dip the fried pettole in vin cotto (outside of Italy, in honey or the syrup of your choice).