It wouldn’t be Christmas in a Neapolitan house without struffoli, little round fritters bathed in a boiling honey glaze and then topped with colorful sprinkles.
The little marbles are crispy outside with a nutty flavor sweetened by the honey. The inside is light and airy. The sprinkles are just for show.
Some families mound struffoli into a pyramid reminiscent of a Christmas tree. Others form a wreath to celebrate the holiday. At my house in Jersey we always built a pyramid and I still do today.
Struffoli keep well. My mother made them a day or two before Christmas and set them on the dining room buffet. The arrival of struffoli was a harbinger of Saint Nick’s imminent arrival.
When I was little, I’d sneak by and quickly snatch one or two struffoli with my fingers, stuffing them in my mouth as I walked through the dining room. It wasn’t long until my Mom saw a dent in the side of the struffoli pyramid and brought my pilfering to an abrupt end.
This is one of those things I only make once a year. I got an early start this year but I’ll be making more for the Christmas table back in Jersey.
Oh, you don’t have to eat struffoli with your fingers. Give each of your guests a couple of heaping mounds on a plate and a spoon.
If you want another holiday sweet this season make bow ties a/k/a cenci, wandi and bugia. I love the blisters that form on the bow ties as they quickly fry. No honey glaze here just a powdered sugar dusting before eating. Watch out, the delicate bow ties splinter with each bite and sometimes send out a puff of powdered sugar. They sure are fun to eat.
Struffoli (Honey Balls)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
zest of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1/2 orange
1 tablespoon rum, grappa or vanilla
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup colored sprinkles
- Put the flour, sugar, salt, and zest in a large bowl. Mix well.
- Make a well in the middle of the flour.
- Add the eggs and rum (or grappa or vanilla) to the well and beat the eggs.
- With a fork or your hand mix the flour slowly into the eggs to form the dough. The dough should be sticky.
- Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead briefly until the dough comes together. (Do not overwork the dough or the strufolli will be dense.)
- Form the dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
- Turn the dough back out onto a floured surface. It still will be sticky, roll it around in the flour and form it back into a ball.
- Cut the ball into 8 equal pieces and form each into a ball. Dust lightly with flour so they do not stick together and put all but one of them back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
- On the floured surface roll out the dough ball with your hands into a rope about a half-inch in diameter. (Be sure to cover the bowl so the remaining balls do not form a crust.)
- With a knife or pastry scrapper ut the ropes in half-inch pieces.
- Roll the cut pieces into a ball about the size of a marble and put them in a single layer on a lightly floured baking pan. (Forming the round shape is important. Strufolli derives from the word for rounded.)
- Repeat with the other 7 dough balls.
- Put 3 cups of safflower or your favorite oil in a large pot and over medium heat bring the oil to 375 degrees.
- Shake off any excess flour and fry small batches of the dough balls in hot oil, turning occasionally until they are a dark golden color all over. They should be done in about a minute or so.
- With a slotted spoon, remove the struffoli to a large platter lined with paper towel to drain.
- Put the honey, sugar and water in a pan large enough to hold all the struffoli,
- Over medium-low heat stir until the sugar is melted.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and continue cooking the glaze until it comes to a boil, starts to foam up and darken in color, about a minute or two. (The foam should dissipate soon after it foams up.)
- Remove the glaze from the heat and add all the strufolli.
- Mix well to cover all of the strufolli with the honey glaze.
- With a slotted spoon transfer the strufolli to a serving platter and mold them into a pyramid or a wreath.
- Drizzle some of the honey glaze left in the pot over the strufolli and scatter the sprinkles on the top of the strufolli mound.
Loosely cover the strufolli with plastic wrap. If you are lucky you can eat strufolli for several days.