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Struffoli: Italian Christmas Tradition

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Struffoli is a Neapolitan dessert that is traditionally prepared at Christmastime.

2013-12-03-Struffolinapoletani1.jpgIt is made of tiny dough balls that have been deep-fried and soaked in honey.

They are served piled high on plates and serving trays. Some like to form them in the shape of Christmas trees or wreaths. Regardless of which style you form your struffoli, they are always festively covered with multi-colored candy sprinkles and colorful mixed candied fruits.

Struffoli are a traditional Italian holiday treat for those living in Italy as well as for those that live out of the country. People who grew up with this symbol of Christmas seem to go out of their way every year to make sure there is a struffoli on the holiday table.

Some buy it; some make it. In any event, the tradition is kept alive.

In Italy, Italian home cooks traditionally make large quantities of these tiny honey balls for friends and family. When one visits relatives during the holidays, a plate of struffoli often is brought along as a gift to spread holiday cheer and in keeping with the theme of Christmas as the season of giving.

The struffoli recipe shared here is one I have been making for years. I find that it is consistent and always delicious.

The final shapes are always fun to see. Who says you can't have a struffoli in the shape of a race car?

Struffoli: (serves: 10-15)

Ingredients: for the dough

Sugar - 1 cup
Butter - 2 oz. (unsalted)
Eggs - 5
Vanilla - 2 teaspoons
Flour - 4 cups
Baking powder - 2 teaspoons
Lemon - 1, grated

The honey syrup:

Sugar - 1/2 cup
Water - 1/2 cup
Honey - 16 oz.
Cinnamon - 1/4 teaspoon

Frying:

Vegetable oil - 6-8 cups

Garnishing:

Candied mixed fruit - 1/2 cup, chopped
Sprinkles - 1 tablespoon

Method: (This recipe utilizes an electric mixer. They can be made by hand by following the instructions and increasing the blending and mixing times by 5-10 minutes to insure proper consistency.)

  • In the bowl of your electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment in place, blend together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. This should take 5-8 min on medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl down from time to time as needed.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.
  • Add the vanilla, flour, baking powder, grated lemon zest and blend well until a soft dough is formed. (If dough seem to sticky, add a little additional flour in order to achieve a workable dough that will not stick to your hands.)
  • Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece on a lightly floured board into a long rope the diameter of a pencil. Then cut each rope into 1/2 inch size pieces. Lightly roll between the palms of your hands to create small ball shapes.
  • Heat the oil to 350 F.
  • Fry the dough pieces in the hot oil about 12 at a time. Cook until golden brown all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a sheet pan lined with absorbent paper to drain. Repeat until all dough had been fried and drained. Then transfer all to a clean bowl and reserve until needed.
  • In a medium pot, combine the sugar and water. Stir over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Then add the honey and the cinnamon. Continue to stir until mixture reaches a simmer.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and pour into the bowl with the fried dough balls, mixing and tossing the balls gently and simultaneously with a spatula to make sure that all are coated well.
  • At this point, you can toss some of the candied chopped fruit into the bowl and mix in reserving the rest of the candied fruits for the garnishing.
To shape:
  • On a decorative serving tray or plate begin to mound the honey balls.
  • If making the wreath shape, place a clean glass, or glass jar in the center of your plate and build your honey ball wreath around it. Remove the glass mold when you are ready to garnish.

Garnish:

  • Once you have completed plating, use the colorful sprinkles and reserves candied fruits to festively decorate the top.

Happy Holidays ~ Buon Natale!