Struffoli, Neapolitan Christmas Treats

Struffoli

Struffoli

Struffoli are (they’re always referred to in the plural) now an absolute requirement at the end of a Neapolitan Christmas day dinner. However, in introducing them in La Cucina Napoletana Caròla Francesconi says their inclusion is relatively recent: Crisci mentions them several times in the book he wrote in 1634, but doesn’t include them on his Christmas menu.

The recipe is in any case quite old, as is indicated by the presence of very similar dishes throughout the Mediterranean Basin — Ms. Francesconi mentions the Lukumates of the Greeks, and there are also the Precipizi Italian Jews make for Hanukkah.

To make a batch you will need:

For the dough:

  • 3 1/3 cups (400 g) flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grain alcohol
  • A chunk of butter the size of a small walnut
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • The zest of a half a lemon, grated
  • The zest of half an orange, grated
  • A pinch salt
  • A pot of olive oil (or the oil you prefer) for frying

For the Sauce With Which To Season Them:

  • 2/3 pound (300 g) honey
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 ounces diavolilli (tiny, variously colored candied almonds)
  • 4 candied cherries, halved
  • 2 ounces (60 g) candied orange peel, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips
  • 2 ounces (60 g) candied citron, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips
  • 2 ounces (60 g) candied melon rind, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips

Combine the ingredients for the dough to make a stiff but workable dough, knead it well, and let it sit for at least an hour, covered.

Pluck off pieces of dough and roll them out under your fingers to form snakes about as thin as your pinkie, and cut them into quarter-inch long pieces. Fry the pieces a few at a time in hot oil until brown and drain them on absorbent paper. Should the oil start to froth after a bit, and the froth overflow the pot, change the oil.

When you have finished frying the dough, take a second, preferably round-bottomed pot and put the honey, sugar and water in it. Boil the mixture until the foam dies down and it begins to turn yellow. At this point reduce the heat as much as possible and add the struffoli and the diced candied fruit. Stir to distribute everything evenly through the honey and turn the mixture out onto a plate. Shape the mixture into a wreath with a hole in the middle, dipping your hands frequently into cold water lest you burn yourself.

Sprinkle the candied fruit strips and the diavolilli over the ring and arrange the cherry halves evenly. Struffoli will keep a week or more if covered, and improves wih age.

Note: A reader wrote to say she had problems getting the dough to hold together, and wondered if the proportions were correct.

They are; Ms. Francesconi calls for 6 eggs and 5 cups of flour for her grandmother’s recipe, and Angie, SupEreva’s cooking Guide (a native Campanian) calls for 5 eggs and a little more than 4 cups flour in her recipe. The resulting dough will be stiff, and it will take a fair amount of kneading to distribute the moisture from the eggs (the eggs I’ve found in Italian markets are generally about the size of the large eggs sold in North America) evenly throughout the flour.

If the dough shows no signs of wanting to hold together, add just enough water for it to stay together and no more; it should be stiff. Why the stiffness? As Arthur Schwartz points out in his wonderful book, Naples at Table (Harper Collins), struffoli are essentially pasta dough that’s rolled out into snakes, broken into bits, and friend, at which point the pieces puff up, “forming light, crunchy dough nuts.” Pasta dough is stiff.

A final observation: Struffoli are traditionally shaped into wreathes at Christmas. The ones pictured here were instead prepared by the Azienda Molettieri (their Taurasi is worth seeking out) and served in individual portions at the close of a long and very nice dinner.  But the picture does show what struffoli look like.

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Categories: Biscotti and other Sweet Treats, Campanian and Neapolitan Recipes, Ricette Campane e Napoletane, Campanian Biscotti, Cakes and Sweets, Holiday dishes

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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