Nothing should put a smile on your face more than mounds of minature fried dough balls bathed in honey, that makes complete sense doesn’t it? Struffoli are the quintessential holiday treat during the month of December. Their mere appearance can pull you out of the deepest holiday funk. Generally, I loathe any stereotypical associations between Italian Americans and organized crime, however I feel compelled to mention a scene from iconic series The Sopranos where in Carmella, noting that Tony was in one of his depressive states (moosha moosh) presented him with a heaping platter of these honey glazed confections, a loving gesture to cheer the dysfunctional mob boss.
Struffoli, a traditional Neapolitan Christmas sweet is made both at home and at Italian pastry shops during the holiday season. It is also referred to as Turdilli or Pignolata in Calabria and Cicerchiata in the Abruzzi region. Although I have enjoyed some excellent pastry shop renditions, nothing can compare to Struffoli fatto a casa, or made at home. Struffoli are the perfect Hanukkah treat too, as fried foods symbolically commemorate the holiday.
Ok, so I mentioned the word dreaded by all of us, fry. Nothing quite sucks the cheer out of a celebration like frying; the lingering smell, the splattering, the greasy mess. Well, do I have an approach for you that I promise will make this process almost a breeze, it’s all in the preparation. Let’s begin… your new best friend is aluminum foil, a lot of aluminum foil to completely line and cover your stovetop and the surrounding areas. A large clean towel on the floor in front of the stove, exhaust fan on high, windows and doors open, scented candles lit, work station prepared – trust me the clean up is virtually effortless.
Struffoli recipes vary, some use butter or oil, sugar and vanilla in the dough. My dough is a basic combination of flour, salt, eggs and orange peel. As honey is a key component of the finished dish, it is important to select a high quality honey. I like to add candied orange peel, roasted hazelnuts and sprinkles to my Struffoli. If this is your first attempt at preparing Struffoli, I would start with a single recipe. Doubling or tripling this recipe certainly works well, but all of that dough at once might seem overwhelming. It is simple to put together a second batch once you have the process mastered. Although Struffoli are generally presented in a mound on a platter or disposable pie tin, they can be arranged in the shape of a wreath at Christmas time making a festive centerpiece for the holiday dessert table.
This is a treat best enjoyed within several days of preparing. They are quite irresistible – I am yet to meet someone who can pass by a glistening platter of Struffoli without pulling off a few of the golden honey balls. Having the little ones help prepare the dough is a wonderful way to involve the family; have an alternative activity prepared for them when the frying begins. Traditionally, Struffoli are given to friends and family while visiting during the holiday season. So, with Hanukkah and Christmas fast approaching, get out that aluminum foil and scented candle, roll up your sleeves, and bring a smile to some faces.
- 1 cup all purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- Finely grated peel from 1 orange
- Canola oil for frying
- 1 cup of high quality honey
- 1 Tbs. colored sprinkles
- ½ cup toasted & skinned hazelnuts
- ⅓ cup candied orange peel, diced
- Place the flour and salt in a medium sized bowl and with a wire whisk stir well to combine. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs & orange peel. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork and begin to incorporate the flour until combined; the dough may seem a little ragged. Turn the contents of the bowl onto the counter and knead until smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- While the dough is resting, line the stovetop and corresponding backsplash with aluminum foil. I generally remove the grate over the burner I am planning to use and line the area around the burner as well, replacing the grate afterwards. Have the aluminum foil cover the front portion of your cooktop and the counter which will serve as a staging area. Place a large towel on the floor in front of the stove. Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper toweling and have a flat sided strainer, large spoon and candy thermometer along side the baking sheet. Place a heavy skillet on the prepared burner and add about 2" of canola oil to the skillet.
- Lightly flour a work surface, and break off about ¼ of the dough. Heat the oil on medium high until it reaches 365º. Open the doors and windows, put on the exhaust fan and light a scented candle. Begin to roll the piece of dough between the palms of your hands until a rope of about ½ inch in diameter has been formed. Finish rolling lightly on the work surface, trying not to incorporate too much of the flour. With a bench scraper or table knife cut the rope into ¼ inch segments. Lightly roll the dough segments into little balls and place on a baking sheet. Continue until you have used all of the dough and it is formed into little balls.
- Bring the uncooked struffoli to the frying station and check the temperature of the oil. Dip the spoon into the hot oil to coat it and put one of the struffoli balls onto the spoon, gently placing it in the hot oil - away from you. If the struffoli ball begins to sizzle and brown in less than one minute you are ready to begin the frying.
- Dip the spoon into the hot oil and then place some struffoli onto the spoon to be transferred into the hot oil; once again doing so in a direction away from you. Do not add too many at one time as the struffoli will not cook properly; take care as to not have the oil spatter. Allow the struffoli to fry, turning once or twice until golden brown. Remove with the flat strainer and drain on paper toweling. Repeat until all of the dough has been fried - set aside. Carefully remove the hot skillet with the oil to the rear of the cooktop.
- Gently warm the honey in a medium sized saucepan. Combine the candied orange peel and hazelnuts, mixing together thoroughly. Once the honey comes to a gently simmer, remove from the stove and stir in the struffoli, candied orange and hazelnuts. Stir gently & consistently to be sure that the honey coats the fried morsels well and the honey begins to become absorbed. Add the colored sprinkles and continue to stir. Once the struffoli has been thoroughly coated with the honey and has somewhat cooled it can be paltered in a mound or formed into a small wreath. When completely cooled, it can be wrapped in cellophane to be presented as a holiday gift.
- Once the oil has cooled, it can be strained into a large glass jar and stored in a cool, dark place to be used again.