Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to make crunchy sweet ITALIAN BOW TIE COOKIES (aka Angel Wings) by Cleo Coyle

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I hope these cookies, widely known as Angel Wings, bring back fond memories for some of you. Many cultures have a version of these crunchy sweet fried cookies whether they're dusted with powdered sugar or finished with a drizzle of warm honey. The Polish version is chrusciki. In Hungary, they are called csöröge. In France, bugnes lyonnaises. In the Ukraine, they're called verhuny.

In Italy, they are known by many names, depending on their region and their shape. In Piedmont, they are bugie (lies); in Lombardy chiacchiere (gossips); in Rome frappe; in Veneto galani or crostoli, and in Tuscany they have three different names cenci (rags); guanti (gloves) and fiocchetti or fiocchi (bows).

My Aunt
Mary Capaccio
While these cookies are traditionally enjoyed during Carnivale in Italy, here in the United States, my family and many other Italian-Americans enjoy them at Christmas and Easter. We also make them for weddings; and if you've ever been to an old-school Italian wedding, then I don't have to tell you about the mountains of cookies on trays provided by cousins, aunts, and grandmothers.

As a little girl, I felt very special when my late aunt Mary allowed me to be her helper with the "bow tie" making process. Around the holidays especially, I find myself once again missing my beloved aunt and our times together frying up these absolutely delectable cookies. 

And so this post is for her...
and for you!

May you cook with love 
and eat with joy, 
~ Cleo

Cleo Coyle's
Italian Bow Tie

To download this recipe in a free PDF
document (with step-by-step photos)
that you can print, save, or share,
 click here.
Click here to download
the free PDF of this recipe.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies 


1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (+ ½ cup more for kneading and rolling) 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt (or 1/8 teaspoon table salt) 
2 large eggs 
4 tablespoons water (*see my note below) 
6 tablespoons butter melted and cooled (the melted butter
   must cool a bit or you'll cook the eggs)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon lemon extract (or 2 teaspoons lemon zest) 
1 egg white for "gluing" the bows

*Note on the water: While my family uses water in this recipe, some bakers use alcohol instead. If you like, you can replace all or part of the 4 tablespoons of water with alcohol. Options include grappa, wine, brandy, Marsala, rum, anisette, and whiskey. 


Step 1 – Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and water very well. Add the melted (and cooled!) butter and whisk again. Finally whisk in the pure vanilla extract and lemon extract. (The lemon extract may curdle your mixture a bit, but continue whisking and you should be able to blend it smooth.) Now stir in the flour mixture that you set aside, a little at a time until a dough forms. 

Step 2 – Knead the dough: At this point, the dough should be formed but very wet and sticky. Using your hands, knead in the remaining ½ cup of flour, a little at a time, to rid the dough of stickiness. You want the dough to be soft and smooth and relatively dry, but be careful not to over-knead it. After a minute or two of kneading, you should be ready to roll—literally! (Note: I find a short resting period for the dough makes it easier to work with. If you have the time, allow it to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. You can use the time to clean up your kitchen. :))

Step 3 – Roll out the dough: On a well-floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thin layer—the thinner your layer, the crispier your cookies! You can even use a pasta rolling machine to do this job if you have one. 

Step 4 – Slice dough into ribbons: After the dough is rolled flat, you’re ready to cut. A fluted roller is traditional, and although I have one, I’m using a pizza cutter in my photos because most US kitchen have one. First neaten up the edges of the ragged dough by creating a large rectangle. Then slice the dough into long strips 1-1/2 to 2-inches wide. Slice these strips crosswise to get ribbons of about 4-inches in length. 

FYI - This rectangle of 24 ribbons represents half the amount
of the entire recipe. In other words, roll out a second rectangle
of another 24 ribbons and you've got your 4 dozen cookies.
OR you can wrap the other half of the dough in plastic
and save it in the refrigerator for another day.

Step 5 – Form ribbons into bows: Place a bit of egg white in the center of each small strip—this will act as glue. Pinch the centers together to form a bow. To really secure it, I fold that pinch over one more time; otherwise, it may release during frying. 

Step 6 - Fry the bows in hot oil (see a few tips below). Use a slotted spoon to scoop them out and allow them to drain on paper towels. While still warm, generously dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar on both sides, or drizzle with warm honey.

Cleo's tips for frying: 

* Rather than a deep pot, I like to use a large skillet for frying the cookies. I fill it with only about 1-1/2 to 2 inches of oil, and this works wonderfully (see my photos). Using the smaller amount of oil allows me to change the oil more often during the cooking process. Keeping the oil clean is important to the taste and look of the final cookies.

* Be sure the oil is hot enough before you begin frying. A small drop or two of water should sizzle and dance on the oil. If it doesn’t, keep heating. 

* Test the oil with a small piece of the cookie dough. The dough should not sink for more than a few seconds. It should very quickly inflate in the oil and rise to the top. If it does not, again, your oil is not hot enough. Continue heating or turn the heat up a bit.

* You are watching for the cookies to puff up, float to the top of the oil, and fry up to a light golden brown and not dark brown. This distinction makes a big difference in taste and texture. Flip them once or twice. Don’t overcook them. * When the oil begins to turn brown and shows lots of sediment, it’s time to change it. Dispose of all the oil, wipe out the pan, begin a new batch with completely fresh oil and...

* * * * * * * *

Free recipe PDF
Click here to download
the free PDF of this recipe.

* * * * 

Photo Strip for Pinterest

* * *

Eat with joy! 

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
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  1. I am SO glad to see this recipe. I used to go into my great grandmas basement to her second kitchen and we used to make these. I LOVE these.

    1. Shawn (BusyMom) - We had a second kitchen in the basement, too, and that's exactly where we made these cookies! How cool that we had the same experience. That basement kitchen served us well for the amount of cooking we did, and it also came in handy on hot summer days--keeping the first floor from the heat of the oven and gas burners. My husband tells me that his family also had a basement kitchen--until your comment, it never came up in conversation! LOL! (More of my reply below...)

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. Thank you .. I always wanted the recipe but my grandmother threw all her recipes away when my grandfather died. So all my great grands and grands recipes are gone :(

    My mom has a few that I need to get but this is one we did not have.

    Thank you!

    1. How sad for you that the recipes were thrown away! My aunt would have loved that this post helped bring back good memories for you. I only wish she were alive to see it, and I can only hope that somewhere in the universe she knows about this little tribute and is smiling.

      My warmest wishes to you and your family, Shawn, may you always eat with joy...

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. Lovely post Cleo! I helped my friend Nikki Bonanni make these once. I got in trouble for being impatient and not rolling the dough out thin enough--they were still delicious!

    1. Thanks, Lucy. LOL on Nikki as task master. It's true, if the dough isn't rolled thin enough the cookies will be doughy instead of crispy. No matter what, though, my aunt was never impatient with my efforts. She was a real sweetie and taught by example. Maybe that's why cooking and baking with her created some of my best childhood memories. Thanks again for the nice comment and have a great week.

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. Interesting about the skillet. That seems smarter for a lot of fried items. I bet Aunt Mary is beaming today. She's sharing your pictures with great pride, I'm sure.

    What a lovely tradition.


    1. Krista - Agreed! Skillet frying is great, my mom and aunt did it often--a good peasant trick for saving oil, which could be expensive. I do fried chicken fillets and breaded chicken wings the same way, works well, and thanks for the nice words about my beloved late aunt. If she were alive today, she would have LOVED this blog and all the wonderful writers on it!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. This is really special, Cleo! What a terrific connection with your beloved aunt. My mouth is watering and I know I have to make these with someone I love.

    Thank you!

    1. Aw, thank you, MJ. This was a fun post to do, and I appreciate your stopping by to let me know you enjoyed it. Have a great weekend.

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  6. A winner, as always.
    How sweet to hear about your Aunt.
    I can imagine these melting and crunching in my mouth.
    We really need to work on the "transporting via email" technology. But then you'd have to make a LOT of them!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Libby. And I’m all ready for that technology--would be happy to share my test batches of various recipes, too, to see what everyone thinks. For me, though I know how dangerous it would be--for my waistline, primarily. :)

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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    1. Thanks for the invitation, Kyra, that's very nice of you!

  8. Thank you for sharing these special memories with us. I can just see the kitchen interactions. Like Mary Jane, I have to make some of these soon with someone I love - probably someone much shorter than me.

    Cleo, your photos are just beautiful. The one of your finger touching the center of the dough strip is truly artistic. Is there anything you two don't do well??

    1. Laine - You are always so incredibly sweet, thank you! But, as you can see, perfection is elusive...how do you think I got those over-fried samples for my picture?!

      And you are so right about those shared moments with those we love. (Alas, we’re not on this Earth forever.)

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  9. I love when you talk about your Aunt Mary! Having these special memories of our families is what makes holidays (and every other day) special. In my husband's family (Polish/French) they are angel wings and I gave up trying to make them "right" severl years ago!! Guess my Celtic heritage doesn't give me the "touch" :-)

    I do have a quick question...why do some add alcohol? Is it a taste or texture thing?

    I'll be off to the local Italian bakery this Easter to buy a bunch and think this year I may just call them Bow Ties and surprise Mr. Agnello!!

    Now if I could only make this PB&J taste like a few Bow Ties!!

    1. Hey, Nancy, thanks for stopping by. The alcohol is more for taste, though the texture might change a bit, depending on the alcohol used and how much of it evaporates during the frying process.

      (I honestly think the addition of alcohol was one of those things that came about because the cook was sampling some herself as she made the cookies and thought, eh, why not splash some in?) In any event, I’m sure these little wings will taste great no matter what alcohol you choose to add (or not)!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  10. Wow, how pretty are these! One of my favorite desserts as a girl. My friend's mother used to make them. Delish. I might have to try gluten-free and see if they'll hold up. Bet not. But maybe. :) Yum!

    Daryl aka Avery

    1. I'll bet a gluten-free version would work! If you try it, let us know, and thanks for the nice words, Avery/Daryl, I'm glad the cookies brought back nice memories for you.

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  11. OMG thank you for always posting GREAT things! You are awesome!! What a nice way to honor your Aunt Mary. I got my finger on the oven and cannot WAIT to share these for Easter. xoxo

    1. geneen g - aw, you made my day, thank you for the lovely comment. I hope you enjoy the cookies, and I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Easter!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  12. Thanks for this! My grandmother used to make them, too. My older brother doesn't remember them so I was beginning to wonder if I imagined them. She didn't make them very often but I remember she used a fluted rotary cutter which made the edges look like you used pinking shears and she wrapped them more like a pretzel. She used to say they were a pain to make, I'll have to see if I can recreate them! Her problem was that she never wrote her recipes down, "I'll have to show you" was her standard response. We all know how THAT goes...

    1. JDV - You are so welcome and thank *you* for the wonderful comment.

      In fact...I still have (and treasure) my Aunt Mary's fluted rotary pastry cutter from Italy. That is what she used (and I usually use) to make these cookies. The reason I used a pizza cutter was to make it easy for people who have that gadget in their kitchen already. I didn't want to discourage anyone from making these fantastic cookies by showing them a kitchen gadget they may not want to purchase! But you are absolutely right, traditionally, these cookies are cut with a fluted pastry cutter.

      You are also quite right about the wrapping of the dough into a circular almost pretzel like shape. (This is done after making little "boats" in the strip by pinching the dough together every inch or so and then wrapping the strip and gluing the boats together with dots of egg whites.)

      My aunt taught me that method, too, but (again) I didn't want to over-complicate this recipe and discourage people with something that might look difficult.

      It's so nice to hear about your own memories of these techniques, and I'm happy to confirm that I have those same wonderful memories!

      Thanks again for stopping by to comment.

      Warmest wishes,

      ~ Cleo Coyle Cleo Coyle on Twitter

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  14. These kinds of cookies were a "thing" where I grew up, in Des Moines, Iowa. There, though, they're commonly finished with a pink powdered-sugar icing. I love them dearly, and try to get a bag every so often when I go home.

    I've attached a link to a photo of the way they generally look when you get them in Des Moines...hope the system doesn't eat it.


  15. OMG.. I used to love these cookies as a kid. Totally forgot about them. Haven't had them in years! Must make them soon!!! Thanks for the recipe--and the memory!