The “graffiòla” is the traditional cortalese desert or sweet which origins are very old. The eldest Cortalesen remember that the Graffiòle were the deserts or sweet prepared for the traditional festivals and weddings: among the sweets made for the occasions the preferred one was the Graffiòla, everyone’s favourite. Back in the ’30s there was already a hunger for these sweets, noble families asked the elderly of this town to prepare these famous sweets for their special occasions and weddings using only the traditional recipes, recipes that still today are the same as they were back in the day, even still with the secrecy of the ingredients quantities.
The elderly couple Antonio and Angela Muraca from the Cortale bakery still remember with nostalgia their wait for an important occasion just to taste the delicious Graffiòle, which if made large, cut and filled with custard or when prepared in pares where called “Sospiri di Monaca”.
Also in the 60s as Lucy Occhiuto the owner of the second bakery at Cortale tells us, entire families borrowed the bakery for two or three days in order to prepare all the wedding cakes as well as the Graffiòla which were only prepared by the “Graffiolàre” expert in making this traditional sweet and whose names are still nowadays remembered: Teresa Pellegrino, Tommasina Saraceno, Lina Ceola, Chiara Surianello, and even before the beginning of the last century the sisters “Viluotte” an absolute female tradition. And still today in some small villages of Catanzaro the Graffiòle and Tarallucci cakes are served before the bride leaves the family home.
The preparation of the Graffiòla is a real ritual that has been handed down from mother to daughter (or mother-in-law to daughter in law as in the case of Mrs. Angela with the young Giovanna) and requires precise stages and a particular craft. An art that today as it was 100 years ago allows to get an excellent product with simple and genuine raw ingredients without the use of yeast and using a wood stove and a lot of work: in about two hours you get 2.5 Kg of Graffiòle and a large quantity of delicious cakes due to the extreme lightness of the product.
Mr. Angela (with her traditional shawl showing the characteristic designs of Cortalese textile art) aided by Giovanna goes straight to work. Her work is fast and quick and shows a high level of skill compared to what she is going to “create”, while her gaze is calm and shows a deep attachment to traditions to what she is going to do and what will happen.
the long preparation
The preparation of the Graffiòla begins with the breaking of the eggs from which the yolk is separated from the white. With 45 eggs can obtain 200 Graffiòle. The yolk is added before the sugar, then the flour and then is worked by hand or with small electric whisk. The doses are not written but the women go by eye and feeling adding the sugar and flour to give the right consistency.
Is very important the type of egg used: eggs too rich in water such as those made in summer following the needs of the poultry produce an egg white too watery which makes less soft and swollen product that requires more oven time. Moisture is also essential for the quality of the Graffiòla: the moisture of the dough, the moisture and humidity of the air from which the importance of the current of air inside the oven which must have open and closed ventilation shafts in order to allow air to enter in order to help the Graffiòla to rise. In fact, the Graffiòla needs to remain raised and soft once cooked, glazed and packaged.
The secret of this is in the second phase of preparation: the whisking of the egg white, which is exclusively done by hand using a whisk and in a copper pot only as traditionally. The egg white gradually changes colour and consistency, from transparent and white to creamy and white. Fatigue is often great and rest times often necessary after 20 minutes of whipping action.
And it is exactly the hand whipping and the copper pot that ensures the softness and texture of the Graffiòla: when mechanical techniques and utensils were used the Graffiòla came out smaller, roused less and were more prone to collapsing.
When the egg beating is ready or when lifting the egg whites these remain adherent and firm, is then poured slowly into the pot to be mixed with the: egg yolk, sugar and flour. The two mixes are then mixed in large copper pots when they are continuously worked by hand until you get to the colour and the right density or when you raise the whip and no dough remains stuck to it.
At this point you can prepare the Graffiòle by hand. Using baking paper over baking trays and placing portions of dough to make the Graffióle. With an iron spoon as big as they used to be, Angela takes some of the mixture from the pot and in a decisive and delicate manner with a safe rotating movement and in a precise manner creates the form of the traditional Graffiòla. A movement that she and some of those before her repeated thousands of times almost imperceptibly in an “S” shape to make this traditional sweet.
Its slow cooking and intoxicating aroma
When each pan is completely filled is then put in the oven at 250°C for 20 or 30 minutes.
Meanwhile the glaze is prepared: mix 1 ltr of water with 1Kg of sugar and bring to a boiling point. The bubbles rise progressively the then do the “spoon test” which is done to understand the density of the “syrup”, here is also important to observe the correct consistency of what we will cover which are the Graffiòla to give them an extra flavour and a shininess.
Meanwhile the Graffiòle in the oven slowly changing colour: They tend to go towards the golden brown and you know they are ready when you try to lift them from the baking paper and they come off right away without effort. At this point we remove the baking trays from the oven and gradually proceed to brush them with the glaze.
The aroma from the still warm Graffiòle is fragrant and almost intoxicating. The movements of the brush driven by hand swift and firm determines a real vernissage which stratifies the icing on the soft sweet, until the colour of the surface now becomes glossy white thus sealing the end of the preparation process.
At this point the work is finished and the Graffiòle are gently placed on their 200gr trays, sometimes also in trays of 1/2 Kg or 1 Kg. A single Graffiòla has an average weight of 10-12gr, so in 1Kg we find approx. 80-90 Graffiòla. For this reason to make 2kg of this sweet Angela and Giovanna took almost two hours of intense and careful work.
Today some people also thinks on the modern versions of the Graffiòla: Lucia Occhiuto also tries a version with chocolate, with white chocolate, chopped hazelnuts or almonds instead of icing on the to create designs and effects almost in an artistic fashion. In any case, the “Graffiòla Cortale” branded De.CO (Municipal Designation of Origin) is a wonderful example of the traditional sweets and the safeguarding of Calabria’s cultural identity, today as it was yesterday.