Struffoli!

 

Struffoli, small balls of dough fried and then covered in honey, is the quintessential Christmas sweet of Naples and its region of Campania. Although I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, it is very dear to my heart; it was one of nonna Angelina’s signature dishes, and it never failed to make an appearance each year around the holidays. In our family they were known as ‘Nana’s honey balls’. As a child I took the name literally, and until I moved to Italy, I thought that they were my grandmother’s invention. You can imagine my surprise then, when, on vacation on the Amalfi coast one year, I peered into the window of a pasticceria and saw… Nana’s honey balls! Where on earth, I thought to myself, had they gotten the recipe? Well, I soon enough learned that Nana’s secret recipe was actually no secret at all. In fact, the recipe is ancient, dating all the way back to the Greeks who settled southern Italy, founding, among other things the city of Naples or Neapolis, meaning ‘new city’ in Greek.

In any event, these little babies are actually quite simple to make, but, like many old-fashioned dishes, they require a bit of time and tender loving care:

Ingredients (for a small plateful of stuffoli)

300g (3 cups) flour
3 eggs
Butter, a walnut-sized chunk or 3 Tbs. oil
Rum,  or other spirit (optional)
Zest of one lemon
Salt, a pinch

Vegetable (or olive) oil for frying

300g (1 jar) honey
Candied fruits (optional)
Confettini or candied ‘sprinkles’

Directions

You begin by making dough with the first six ingredients. This was traditionally done by making what the Italians call a fontana, or fountain of flour, in the middle of which you make a well for other ingredients, then slowly incorporating the flour into the well by hand as you beat the eggs and other liquid ingredients with a fork. These days, however, a stand mixer makes short work of this. Just put in your flour, then the other ingredients, and mix until you get a nice dough, just as if you were making pasta.

Once the ingredients have formed a smooth dough, form it into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for a good 30 minutes or so.

After the dough has rested, take a handful of it at a time and roll them out into ‘cords’ as if you were making gnocchi, about the thickness of your little finger (if you can manage it, otherwise as close to that as you can get). Then cut the cords into short lengths, again just like you are making gnocchi.

Take each little piece of dough, one by one, and quickly rub them between your palms in a circular motion to form little balls, the smaller the better. Place the little balls on a floured towel as you work, making sure that they are all in a single layer so they don’t stick. Just before proceeding to the next step, you grab the ends of the towel and swish the balls around to lightly flour them.

Heat the oil in a large pan. You want lots of oil so the little balls can deep fry in it. When the oil is nice and hot, but not boiling, plunge the dough balls into the oil a handful at a time. The oil will immediately bubble up vigorously. Not to worry, it’s supposed to be that way.

Fry the dough balls until they are lightly browned. Drain on paper towels while you proceed to the next step.

Now, in an ample sauté pan or saucier large enough to hold all of the dough balls, gently heat the honey until it liquifies. Add the dough balls, stir them gently to coat. Allow the balls to soak up the honey for just a minute or two. (They should not get soggy at all.) If using candied fruit (see Notes below) you will want to add some at this point.

Remove your struffoli from the pan with a slotted spoon and arrange them on a plate. It is common to arrange struffoli in a ciambella or ring, but you can also simply pile them high. I like to form them into a little ‘Mount Vesuvius’ as picture above. Then sprinkle your pile with confettini  (or candy sprinkles). It is also customary to decorate and flavor struffoli with candied fruits, in particular little bits of candied oranges and cherries, in addition to the spinkles. You can do this if you like, although—as far as I can remember—Angelina never did, so I follow suit. They can be eaten immediately, but improve with age.

NOTES: Although it takes a few steps, the recipe is really pretty much foolproof. The only trick, the extent there is one, is to make your struffoli as small as you can manage, as that will mean more honey flavor and less chance of an undercooked middle.

There are a few variations on the dish, although none that change its essential character. Like many traditional recipes, the original fat for both making and frying the dough was strutto or lard, not oil. Today, it is more usual to use butter for the dough and vegetable or even olive oil for frying. Not all recipes call for the liquor. And some recipes call for orange rather than lemon zest. And the ratio of egg to flour varies from recipe to recipe. Here I have indicated the same ‘golden rule’ as for pasta dough: 1 egg per 100g (1 cup) of flour. But recipes may call for more or less egg, some for an extra yolk for color and richness. Some recipes omit the fat from the dough—be it butter, oil or lard—altogether, while others call for significantly more fat than indicated here. And, finally, some modern recipes, especially Italian-American ones, call for a pinch of baking powder, which lightens the honey balls considerably but is obviously a modern permutation.

To tell you the truth, struffoli were not all that popular among the younger generation of my family. I like them well enough, but one of my sisters actively despised them. Being a natural born politician, however, that didn’t stop her from complimenting our grandmother profusely one Christmas. Well, our ever thoughtful grandmother took note and the following Christmas  brought a double batch of her ‘honey balls’, one for the family as usual, and another just for my sister, since she loved them so much! You should have seen the look on my sister’s face as Angelina handed her that enormous second bag full of struffoli…

Struffoli!

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: Makes one plate of stuffoli

Struffoli!

Ingredients

    For the dough:
  • 300g (3 cups) flour
  • 3 eggs
  • Butter, a walnut-sized chunk or 3 Tbs. oil
  • Rum, or other spirit (optional)
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Salt, a pinch
  • For frying:
  • Vegetable (or olive) oil for frying
  • For coating the balls:
  • 300g (1 jar) honey
  • Candied fruits (optional)
  • Confettini or candied 'sprinkles'

Directions

  1. You begin by making dough with the first six ingredients by placing your flour, then the other ingredients in a standing mixer, and mix until you get a nice dough, just as if you were making pasta.
  2. Form the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for a good 30 minutes or so.
  3. Take a handful of the dough at a time and roll it out into a 'cord' about the thickness of your little finger. Cut the cords into short lengths.
  4. Take each little piece of dough, one by one, and quickly rub them between your palms in a circular motion to form little balls, the smaller the better. Place the little balls on a floured towel as you work, making sure that they are all in a single layer so they don't stick. Just before proceeding to the next step, you grab the ends of the towel and swish the balls around to lightly flour them.
  5. Heat lots of oil in a large pan. When the oil is nice and hot, but not boiling, plunge the dough balls into the oil a handful at a time. The oil will immediately bubble up vigorously.
  6. Fry the dough balls until they are lightly browned. Drain on paper towels while you proceed to the next step.
  7. In an ample sauté pan or saucier large enough to hold all of the dough balls, gently heat the honey until it liquifies. Add the dough balls, stir them gently to coat. Allow the balls to soak up the honey for just a minute or two. If using candied fruit (see Notes below) you will want to add some at this point.
  8. Remove your struffoli from the pan with a slotted spoon and arrange them on a plate. Arrange in a ciambella or ring or simply pile them high, then sprinkle your pile with confettini (or candy sprinkles).

It is also customary to decorate and flavor struffoli with candied fruits, in particular little bits of candied oranges and cherries, in addition to the spinkles. You can do this if you like, although—as far as I can remember—Angelina never did, so I follow suit. They can be eaten immediately, but improve with age.

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41 Responses to “Struffoli!”

  1. Nina
    21 December 2013 at 13:40 #

    My mother used to make this when we were kids. I absolutely used to love it. I’d like to surprise her one of these days. Can you please tell what flour have you used?

    Also, thank you thank you thank you for sharing.

    • 2 January 2014 at 13:55 #

      Regular, all purpose flour is fine. Thanks for your question, Nina!

  2. Anabela
    20 December 2013 at 14:03 #

    I know them as CRUSTELES

    • 2 January 2014 at 13:56 #

      I’m sure they have a lot of names, depending on culture and location.

  3. Lisa
    23 December 2012 at 10:46 #

    Almost forgot heres the link to photo http://instagram.com/p/Tkb1ffyxeV/ I need to make more dough next time. It was a bit sparse.

  4. Lisa
    22 December 2012 at 23:14 #

    I am planning to make this do U know if u can make balls ahead and fry the next day? Maybe refrigerate or leave out overnight?

    • 23 December 2012 at 08:11 #

      Sure, Lisa, no problem! Just let the dough come back to room temp before frying. You can also just make and fry them the day before—it gives the honey some time to penetrate.

  5. Anonymous
    22 December 2012 at 23:13 #

    Hi I wanted to know if the balls can be stored in fridge or room tempature BEFORE you fry them or should they be fried right away? I wanted to make balls first and then fry them the next day to save on time.

  6. 21 December 2012 at 09:42 #

    They look great, Frank. Have a wonderful holiday.

  7. 22 December 2011 at 19:44 #

    Thanks for writing, Steve! I know what you mean about the frying. I made a batch today for the big event this weekend—always manage to splash some hot oil on my hands… but it's worth it!

  8. Anonymous
    22 December 2011 at 19:15 #

    hey steve z. (brother)….We are making our second batch tonight…the first didn't seem to be enough..so we doubled it and are going for round two.

    Cynthia

  9. 21 December 2011 at 10:33 #

    Update to previous posting (two posts above under “anonymous”) I brought a batch of Struffoli to my kid's school for his class project. They were not a big hit…just as I remembered from my childhood. The kids go for sweeter things while the adults (and the teacher) loved them. The remainder of the batch went home with me and Monica and I gobbled them up. I might have to make another batch before Christmas!

  10. Caryn
    16 December 2011 at 23:40 #

    I make a batch every year at Christmas and give them as gifts to friends and family. This year I added equal parts vanilla and almond extract and anisette. I think this is my favorite combination yet. Also, I had honey my neighbor Jim (a bee keeper), had given me as a gift and it was so much better than the commercial stuff.
    It is a lot of work as I make enough to fill my Kitchen Aid mixing bowl and I refrigerate and make it at my convenience. You can also freeze the balls after you fry them and use them later for another occasion. As a kid my family always cooked together at holidays and some of my best memories are making Struffoli at Christmas. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Anonymous
    13 December 2011 at 08:45 #

    My son had to “interview” me for a school project about “your greatest Christmas memories from childhood”. I immediately thought of the great food my mother would make every year. I also remember my father did the frying of the struffoli because the hot oil could be dangerous and he would handle that! He did the same with the zeppole as well! What wonderful memories indeed…the toys get broken, you outgrow the bike, but the food lives on forever! Bravo!

  12. 11 December 2011 at 20:03 #

    Glad to be of help, Anonymous! Do try them some time, they're not all that hard to make.

  13. Anonymous
    5 December 2011 at 23:16 #

    My uncle Carmine made these every year at Christmas and I've been craving them. I'm so glad I came across your recipe. The photo brought me back to my childhood and the my mouth watered just remembering uncle Carmine's wonderful treats. Thank you for posting.

  14. Anonymous
    5 December 2011 at 12:09 #

    Well Its Christmas time again and I will thinking about my Grandmother and what did I find? Your recipe for Struffoli! I am going to make them this year for my family for the first time. Hope this works. I will take my time and make them small.
    Ellen

  15. 9 March 2011 at 21:29 #

    These look absolutely amazing, Frank! I'll bet my grandchildren will love them, as I'm going to make them soon.
    Thanks for posting!

  16. 25 January 2011 at 15:28 #

    I loved these when I was a kid. Haven't had them for a while. This sounds easy and I will give it a try.

  17. 27 December 2010 at 14:55 #

    Frank these are too adorable for words, I can imagine the sweetness with every bite – I think I'd like to attempt this for New Years :) Wishing you a very happy and healthy and blessed New Year

  18. 27 December 2010 at 14:17 #

    Wonderful holiday treat. They look delicious.

  19. 26 December 2010 at 21:34 #

    They look like little gnocchi. I never saw these in Napoli. Maybe because I was in Campagne in the spring. What a sweet story about nona's honey balls though. :)

  20. 26 December 2010 at 12:13 #

    @Claudia, Mine need to be even smaller to match the ones that Angelina made. And, as my family pointed out, more perfectly round! But no matter–practice makes perfect, I suppose.

    @Arpita: There is a very similar dish in Sicily, or so I hear, that is called perceddrhuzzi, which is made with an eggless dough made from flour (1/2 all purpose, 1/2 semolina) mixed with olive oil, orange juice and a bit of anisette or sambuca. You also add a bit of yeast for 'lift'. Let it rest about an hour and then proceed just as in this recipe. The decorations can included, in addition to honey and sprinkles, and/or candied fruits, pine nuts and almonds.

  21. 26 December 2010 at 12:03 #

    Thanks, everybody, for your kind comments, as always.

    Yes, indeed, it is a small world! No surprise, really, that these little honey balls or similar treats can be found all over the Mediterranean basin.

    @Drick: Many thanks and best wishes for you and yours in the New Year! Keep on blogging…

  22. 25 December 2010 at 20:17 #

    You had me at “fried dough”! These look so amazing!

  23. 23 December 2010 at 13:44 #

    Struffoli is my favorite! I love seeing them on the table. It's hard to stop eating them once you start! I've never made them myself so I'm saving this recipe. :)

  24. 23 December 2010 at 09:57 #

    Great story about your sister! It's a long story that I wont' bore you with but almost the same thing happened to my husband and cornbread stuffing… Merry Christmas!

  25. 23 December 2010 at 08:27 #

    This looks so sweet and simple to make. Thanks for sharing :)

  26. 23 December 2010 at 03:59 #

    Hello, I really Loved the recipe for the stuffoli. however, i'm a vegetarian. Is there a way that the dough can be made without eggs??? I'd love to make a batch and gift it my friends.. :)

  27. 23 December 2010 at 02:04 #

    Great 'How To' shots! I just tried strufoli for the first time while shooting some pictures for the Holiday issue of the magazine I work for. Strufoli and Ribons!

  28. 22 December 2010 at 21:12 #

    Grandma Teresa made them so wonderfully tiny. I was going to post this – but yours are smaller. Mine are too big. Again. Maybe I'll just send my readers to you! Nothing conjures up childhood like struffoli.

  29. 22 December 2010 at 20:43 #

    I know I could eat a plate full of these treats, just sounds beautiful…. hope you and yours have a blessed holiday and a very Merry Christmas Frank, have so much enjoyed learning from you this past year

  30. 22 December 2010 at 19:46 #

    My absolute favorite from my childhood. Enjoy!

  31. 22 December 2010 at 15:40 #

    sweet little tempting ! :D
    Almost like Turkish sweet .. thx for sharing .

  32. 22 December 2010 at 14:54 #

    I looked at the top photo and thought, 'Oh wow, we eat these in Turkey.' A lot of the patisseries sell them. Then I read what you'd written about the recipe being an ancient one from Greece. That explains a few things. The world of food is a strange one isn't it?

  33. 22 December 2010 at 13:44 #

    they look easy and cute! :P :D

  34. 22 December 2010 at 13:22 #

    Delicious! I loved these when I was a kid…I haven't had them in a while – thank you for reminding me that I need to have some asap. :)

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