My early childhood memories are about growing up in the Messina countryside of San Fratello, playing soccer ball with friends, or just hanging out at the old grain mill. The old mulino, as we call it in Italian, used to grind the wheat and other grains grown by our family for many generations. Lazy summer afternoons of frolicking eventually gave way to running home to help Mamma prepare the evening’s cena. The dinner table, always decorated with a fine tablecloth, served host to homemade wine, bread, olives, cheese, mortadella, pasta, and homemade desserts. Mamma often made our favorite dessert, a delicious egg dough pignolata, garnished with organic honey and cinnamon.
Sicilian (Messina) Pignolata
Pignolata or pignulata, is an old, traditional, and delightful Sicilian dessert. Considered a staple in Sicilian culture, it is however also very popular in southern Italy during Easter, Christmas, and the Carnevale. Pignolata dough can be cut to take numerous shapes, like small pinecones, balls, cylinders, and even fingers! Mamma’s favorite shape was the ‘penne‘ style cylindrical cut with angled ends like a pen, hence the name penna in Italian.
Organic Sicilian Pignolata with Organic Raw Honey and Organic Cinnamon
List of Ingredients
Note: Cane sugar is optional, since raw honey alone will suffice in providing enough sweet texture to the recipe.
One pound of organic all-purpose flour (semolina flour is also fine)
Four organic whole eggs
One cup of organic cane sugar
Four oz. of organic raw honey
Eight oz. of water
Four tablespoons of organic olive oil
One teaspoon of sea salt
One tablespoon of organic cinnamon
Half a cup of chocolate sprinkles, toasted chopped almonds or hazelnuts
Preparation and Cooking
Measure and place all the ingredients on the kitchen counter. Two medium sized salad bowls will be needed for this recipe.
Sift the flour in a clean, large bowl. In another bowl, mix the whole eggs, sea salt, sugar, and water together. After that, add the liquid egg mixture in with the flour. Mix all ingredients by hand or use a power mixer if you like.
On a clean bread board or other surface, sprinkle some flour. Place the dough onto the floured work surface and knead it with your hands until it is smooth. Shape the dough into a small loaf of bread. After that, cover it with a wrap and let it cool in the fridge for one hour.
Cut the dough into smaller block shaped pieces, and then roll the smaller block shaped pieces into ropes (about one inch thick). Similarly, you can use a bread roller or your hands, Mamma liked to use her hands. After that, cut each rope into two-inch pieces, like the shape of penne pasta. The shapes can vary depending on style of pignolata.
Cooking the Dough
In a large pan, pour four tablespoons of olive oil, and bring to a heat. Carefully place a few pieces of dough at a time and fry the pieces until they are evenly golden brown (about five minutes). After that, remove the fried pieces of dough with the help of a skimmer spoon. Place the fried dough pieces on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat the process until all the pieces of dough are fried. Therefore, this recipe should yield about twenty, two-inch pieces of fried dough. Similarly, you can increase or decrease the yield by changing the size of the pieces.
Top the Pignolata with Honey and Cinnamon
Place the pignolata pieces in a bowl, and pour over raw honey, while they are still warm. Mix lightly until the honey has melted completely. Immediately place the pignolata on a serving plate, stacked like a pyramid. After that, toss on the sprinkles, cinnamon, almonds, or hazelnuts.
Versions of the pignolata vary quite a bit, from Messina all the way to Ragusa. However, the exquisite sweet taste remains the same. This is my Mamma’s old-fashioned Messina pignolata recipe. Enjoy!