Mammalucchi and the four secrets of Carnival in Venice

As promised yesterday, we’re now going backstage and showing you more about what I call our “authentic Carnival”. While the most crowded weekend of the year in Venice has just begun, you can imagine that in Venice, Carnival has two sides: The official one I described in yesterday’s post, and a private one, not really different from what Carnival was like when I was a child in the 1980s and 1990s.

Carnevale for beginners

10 useful websites about Carnival in Venice

A collection of links, websites, and social media to follow for all who want to learn more about the Venetian Carnival, its lavish events and food.

So today, let’s take a look at this quiet and little known side, and those four secrets:

  • Carnival starts right in the morning with home-made pastries like frittelles.
  • Or, our new en vogue pastry called mammalucchi.
  • In the afternoon, it’s Venetian children enjoying their city, like it’s an adventure.
  • And after that adventure in the late afternoon, time to enjoy a very special cioccolata calda (hot chocolate)!

#1: Carnival breakfast and the unknown story of the “mammalucchi”

True, in Venice we love to eat breakfast at the bar-caffé. And during Carnival, in addition to the ever-present cornetto baked in a thousand varieties, between mid-January and Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday), you’ll find the Carnival specialties of the bar or the bakery next door. Mostly, it’s frittelles which we call fritole or fritoe in Venice.

Venetians used to organize frittelle tastings a few years ago, and also this year you can see some people on social media voting their favorite frittelles.

Or, like in the image below, they’re discovering another sweet, which has been a favorite for the past four years or so in Venice. These mammalucchi are only available at two pastry stores in Venice: At Bar Pasticceria Targa (Ruga del Ravano, near Sant’Aponal, sestiere di San Polo), and at Pasticceria Bonifacio which is in Calle degli Albanesi (sestiere di Castello, just round the corner of our home and five minutes from Piazza San Marco).

Mammaluchi by Bar Pasticceria Targa, San Polo

If you ask the owner of Pasticceria Targa, Marco Rizzetto, about the origins of his mammalucchi, you’ll find that they are based on a historical recipe “re-invented” on the island Murano by Sergio Lotto, one of the best-known patissiers who used to prepare the lievito madre (sourdough) for other bakeries in Venice and the Lagoon.

And one day, as Sergio was preparing the dough for sweet frittelles, using flour, butter, sugar, yeast, sultanas, and arancini, he noticed a mistake in the amount of ingredients, exclaiming “che mammalucco”. That’s how this recipe was born, still a secret, but in my opinion, consisting of similar ingredients as the frittelles while tasting much softer and more buttery .. And now, it’s become a favorite in Venice 🙂

#2: Home made frittelles breakfast

Even better – frittelles made at home! As you can imagine, each family have their own recipe, passed on from their grandmother.

That’s also the case in my family: In the early 1990s, I recall grandmother and me looking up dozens of cookbooks to find out all about Carnival food, and of course, going through the family cooking journals. And Nonna Lina chose her own grandmother’s recipe to make frittelles.

Soon, she invented a dark variety, flavored with chocolate, and I came up with yet another, similar to the original frictilia, a Roman sweet bread refined in Damascus. I added rose liquor to the dough and a special spice mix to enhance the flavor of the roses.

We’ll be sharing Nonna’s recipe in the next post of this Carnival series!

#3: Il Carnevale dei Bambini – the children’s Carnival

Couldn’t resist to post this image of our real Carnival – not so very different from other parts of the world, I’d say. Here we are in Campo San Giacomo dall’Orio, which is quite off the beaten path. And in the background in the image below, you can see the “house of the wisteria” – one of the most beautiful plants in Venice. Such a quiet corner surrounded by a few favorite restaurants and the Majer pastry store. And perfect for the children playing on the sprawling campo.

When Carnevale is real fun: In this image, you can also see the ever-present paper confetti on the streets during Carnival in Venice. It reminds me of my childhood, when Carnevale was an adventure and treasure hunt that took us all around our neighbhorhood, chasing cioccolata calda, actually 🙂

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, Carnevale looks and feels a bit different in 2023. It’s called Carnevale diffuso, which means that many events don’t take place in Piazza San Marco but in other parts of Venice. I found that children are rather happy that small events now take place in many neighborhoods, like you can see in this image I discovered on Facebook:

Il Carnevale dei bambini. Photo credit: Fosca Urbani

#4: Making cioccolata calda

I recall my grandmother making hot chocolate in a very different manner: While at the bar in Venice, you’d be served cioccolata densa, a heavely creamy drink enriched with maize starch, Nonna’s drink was also creamy, and she also added a spoonful of maize starch while stirring it. But instead of milk, she used water (!) and a hint of orange flavored cream. Stirring quite a long time, until the drink turned into a dark cloud of foam, she added cardamom and cinnamon on top, plus another teaspoon of cream with orange zests. She said that this way of preparing hot chocolate was how her grandmother used to make it in the 1930s!

At first I thought that using water was a way of saving milk during those harsh years of WW2, but then one day, I came across the recipe of hot chocolate of Carlo Goldoni, the famous Venetian playwright who lived in the 18th century. And Goldoni’s recipe used – water, cardamom, and cinnamon!

Yet another hint towards confirming my assumption that most historical Venetian recipes live on in private family cooking journals. That’s why I always suggest that you participate in Venetian street feasts, for example at summer solstice, or in any events that offer home-cooked food. Because you never know, you might just have tasted a long-lost recipe. Actually, it happened to me twice 🙂

Cioccolata Goldoni, as it’s offered at Vizio Virtù.

If you’d like to read more stories like these about our authentic Venetian Carnival, we’ve created an e-book for you. Just click on the link below to discover 🙂

Tomorrow, in part 3 of this series, we’ll be sharing the story of Nonna’s black Carnival frittelles.

Carnevale in cucina

E-Book: The authentic Venetian Carnevale and its recipes

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