One of the joys of being an international family is that one can cherry pick traditions to create one’s very own folklore. Struffoli for Enzo was not negotiable. The first time one of these deep-fried honey coated balls, flavoured with orange and lemon, hit my taste buds I was smitten. No Neapolitan Christmas table would be complete without this volcano shaped mountain decorated in candied peels, silver balls, hundreds and thousands and sometimes-cylindrical anise seed sweets, but since none of us like these hard white sweets we tend to leave those off.
This delicacy is very archaic and probably dates back to the 8th century BC when the Greeks founded Naples.
Struffoli are better if prepared a few days in advance as the balls become crunchy and all the flavours develop. I love to watch Enzo preparing this special mouth-watering Christmas dessert with Isabella our daughter. It really starts the Christmas holidays rolling. Below is Enzo’s traditional family recipe.
Flour: 450 grams (3 1/3 cups) plus a little extra if required
Granulated Sugar: 110 grams (4 oz) plus 110 grams (4 oz)
3 regular size eggs
3 egg yolks
50 grams (2 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
The grated rind of 1 unwaxed and untreated Orange
The grated rind of 1 unwaxed and untreated Lemon
Brandy: 1 tablespoon (15 ml)
A pinch of salt
225 grams (½ pound) good quality honey
Good frying oil (sunflower or peanut)
110 grams (4 oz) of candied lemon peel
110 grams (4 oz) of candied orange peel
Coloured sprinkles to decorate
Silver/gold sugar balls
Water: 2 Tbsp (30 ml)
1) On a pastry board place the flour in a mound and make a well in the centre. Have the extra flour ready in case it is needed.
Put 3 eggs and 3 egg yolks in the hole making sure that they do not overflow.
Add 110 grams (4 oz) of granulated sugar and the butter, a pinch of salt, the grated lemon and orange rind and the brandy.
2) Using a wooden spoon start mixing slowly from the centre of the well making sure that the liquid does not spill over.
Slowly incorporate the flour.
When the dough becomes denser start mixing it with your hands and finish incorporating all the flour. If the dough is too wet add some of the extra flour.
Make the dough uniform in colour and consistency and shape it like a ball and wrap it in cling film (this stops it drying out).
The dough must rest for 1 hour at least in a cool place.
3) After the resting time remove the cling film and divide into smaller pieces.
Each section must now be rolled into a long sausage about 1.5cm/½ inch thick.
Cut the sausages into small 1cm/ 1/3 inch dumplings (the size of the dumplings is not canonical, some people likes them very small)
Place all the dumplings on a clean tea towel.
4) Pour enough frying oil into a deep frying pan and heat the oil slowly. Do not overheat the oil.
If you think that the oil has reached a good temperature add one dumpling. If it starts frying you can add a small load of dumplings. Turn them using a frying spoon so they brown evenly. In about two minutes they turn golden so remove them from the oil and place them on kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil. Fry the rest of the dumpling in small loads making sure that they do not turn too brown so be quick to remove them from the hot oil when they’re ready.If the oil gets brown replace it.
5) Now in a saucepan put the honey, 110g (4 oz) of sugar and the water. Heat it slowly and stir continuously with a clean wooden spoon. When the sugar and the honey are melted and look like syrup, test its consistency by pouring a drop on a cold plate. It has to settle like jam. Make sure you do not burn it!
Turn the flame off and slowly add all the dumplings, the orange and lemon candied peel. Now with the wooden spoon very gently start moving them in the pan so they can be coated with the syrup. Do it with care, as you do not want to break the dumplings.
6) Pour them on a serving plate in the shape of a volcano (some people prefer the shape of a ring).
Scatter coloured sprinkles on the top and then add the silver/gold sugar balls to decorate.
Wait until the syrup has settled and they’re cold before serving. They’re even better a day or two later.
If you enjoyed this post you might also like to read about the "presepe" Christmas crib tradition in Italy on http://unprosecchino.blogspot.com/2010/12/nativity-scenes-or-presepi.html