Struffoli, a classic Christmas Italian dessert, is made of deep-fried little dough balls, very aromatic due to the citrus zest and limoncello then coated in honey and topped with sprinkles, and candied fruit. It is usually shaped into a pyramid/tree or a wreath.
Are you ready for Christmas? We’re slowly getting there.
It’s Christmas time
The Christmas tree is halfway decorated, we finished our little shopping, the decorations outside in the backyard are waiting to be plugged in and light up the whole neighborhood. Our cats are enjoying the merry atmosphere: our white male cat Wonton is enjoying lying on the new skirt under the Christmas tree, midway on the train tracks. He just sits there, underneath a canopy of lights, while his sister, Bailey, plays with the hanging ornaments.
An Italian classic
Christmas baking is somewhat done. Last on the list, this beautiful, delicious, traditional Italian dessert: Struffoli. They are a classic on the Italian Christmas table, they are typical of Naples but widespread throughout Italy with different names according to the Region. During Christmas time they are present in every house or bakery, in various shapes and decorations.
Struffoli are deep-fried little dough balls, very aromatic due to the orange and lemon zest and a touch of liqueur (we used limoncello but you can use also anise liqueur. If not using liqueur, replace it with 1 Tbsp of orange or lemon juice). The fried balls are then coated in honey, sprinkles, and candied fruit and shaped into a Christmas tree, a wreath, or a pyramid. It is a rich, fragrant dessert, served mostly at Christmas or New Year.
In my memories, Struffoli were made by my aunt, zia Teresa, in cute mounds of sticky deliciousness wrapped in nice rigid cellophane closed with a ribbon. It was presented to the table among echoes of oohs and aahs in anticipation of the wrapping being opened. When unwrapped, eager hands grasped those little morsels in a very unorthodox serving manner, slowly deconstructing the shape of the Struffoli until there were none… All that remains is an empty platform and time till the next Christmas when the excitement begins again.
Wanting to be in the Italian Christmas spirit, we decided to make our own Struffoli. A trip to the Italian Centre Shop brings us home with all the ingredients needed to put this wonderful festive dessert together. You need a little bit of time, rushing never amounts to anything good anyway. This recipe is festive and it needs playfulness, joy, and passion that will be felt by anyone who experiences it. It is Christmas, after all.
All in all, the dough is quite easy to make and it can be done in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. However, since it is a traditional recipe, I like to make it in a bowl with a wooden spoon, then finish kneading it on a wood board. The dough needs to rest, this is very important, at room temperature, for 30 minutes, wrapped in a towel, or covered by an upside-down bowl. It already smells amazing as the orange and lemon zest always assures a smile on your face.
Cutting and shaping
Now then the fun part begins. You can ask for help, especially kids, or in my case, Loreto who likes to play, shaping the dough morsels into little balls. Cut a slice of dough at a time and leave the rest of the dough covered so it doesn’t dry out. Roll out the piece of dough into a thin rope, then, with a knife, or a bench scraper, cut little pieces of dough, about 1 cm. Then, then roll each piece in the palm of your hands shaping it into little balls. Leave them on the wood board, or place them on a baking sheet lined with a clean towel.
I like anything fried, but I don’t like frying so, I call Loreto, my “fry guy”, who leaps into the kitchen eager to get started with utensils in hand. Fry only a few of the balls at a time, and do not let them brown too much. Then, place them on a baking sheet lined with a paper towel.
Crunchy on the outside, soft inside
These golden morsels of deep-fried dough are light and fragrant, crunchy on the outside, soft and airy inside, hosting delicious highlights of orange and lemon and a subtle nuttiness in the dough. While they are cooling off, melt the honey in a wide pan over low heat, stirring constantly. Next, take off the heat and add the struffoli. Also, add half of the sprinkles and some of the candied fruit and stir, making sure to coat all the balls. The honey adds sweetness in a very nonchalant way holding the texture of the candied fruit and sprinkles.
Lastly, the assembling part begins, again in playful mode. As a matter of fact, we are trying to make a tree or a pyramid. The honey will keep the shape together but don’t get discouraged if you will need more than one attempt, especially when reaching the top. The dough balls love to roll down and create their own shape and design. But whatever shape you create, the flavor is what counts. Aromatic and sweet, this classic dessert will be the highlight of Christmas, reminding us of the importance of love, family, and tradition.
Additionally, if you want to shape it into a wreath, place a glass in the middle of your serving plate, then, spoon the struffoli around the glass. Let it sit for 2-3 hours, then gently remove the glass and reshape the few dough balls that inevitably will have fallen down.
From our kitchen to yours, Buon Natale! Merry Christmas!
Song of the day: “Jingle Bell Rocks”, any version.Print
Struffoli, a classic Christmas Italian dessert, are made of deep-fried little dough balls, very aromatic due to the orange and lemon zest and limoncello then coated in honey and topped with sprinkles and candied fruit.
Based on a traditional Neapolitan recipe found on TavolArteGusto
- 400 g (scant 2 1/2 cups) flour type 00
- 3 eggs, organic, free run
- 80 g (1/3 cup) butter, melted and cooled
- 40 g (3 Tbsp) granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp limoncello (or anise liquor, or orange liquor)
- 1 orange, the zest
- 1 lemon, the zest
- 1 leveled tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- about 600–700 ml peanut oil (or any other vegetable oil) for frying
- 250 g (1 cup) acacia honey
- 3 Tbsp sprinkles
- some candied fruits/cherries
- some sugar pearls
- Melt the butter and let it cool.
- In a big bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, a pinch of salt, the orange and lemon zests.
- Add the melted butter, and the limoncello (or any other liqueur).
- With the help of a wooden spoon mix everything until you get a pebbly consistency.
- Make a hole in the middle and add the eggs, then blend it with the wooden spoon, until almost smooth. Remove from the bowl and finish kneading it by hand on a wood board until smooth.
- Shape into a log, flatten it, cover it with a towel or plastic wrap, and let it rest, at room temperature, for 30 minutes.
- After the resting time, cut a slice of dough about 1.5 cm thick and roll it out into a long piece of rope, about 1 cm in diameter. Leave the rest of the dough covered.
- With a sharp knife or a bench scraper cut the rope into pieces about 1 cm big, then roll each piece in the palm of your hands shaping it into little balls.
- Repeat until all the dough is finished.
- Heat up the peanut (vegetable) oil in a wok, or a not too big pan with tall sides, on medium heat.
- Place a few of the dough balls at a time on a wire mesh colander or slotted spoon, and gently submerge them in the hot oil. Cook for about 30-40 seconds, stirring every now and then. Don’t let them brown too much.
- Once cooked, remove with a slotted spoon and lay them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- In a wide pan over low heat melt the honey, stirring constantly.
- Take off heat and add the struffoli. Also, add half of the sprinkles and some of the candied fruit and stir, making sure to coat all the balls.
- Before the honey hardens, place them in a serving dish and start shaping them as you most like, a pyramid, or a wreath.
- Add more sprinkles, candied fruits/cherries, and optional, almonds.
If you are not using any liqueur, replace it with 1-2 Tbsp of orange or lemon juice.
Struffoli last about 1 week at room temperature. I simply cover the top loosely with foil. A cake dome works too.
To eat, place a few of the struffoli in each plate and eat with your hands.
[This post is sponsored by The Italian Centre Shop. We’ve been compensated but all opinions are our own].
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