When I think of my childhood Christmases, my mind is flooded with memories of Christmas cakes from the pasticceria and home made struffoli. I still crave for them every year. As I live now in Lucca and I do not have a Neapolitan pasticceria nearby, my nostalgia is soothed by making struffoli myself.
Struffoli are sweet fried dumplings coated with honey syrup. They are a very archaic recipe probably going back to Ancient Greece as Naples was founded by the Greeks in the 8th Century BC.
Today struffoli use sugar as an ingredient but last year I tried to imagine how my Classical Greek ancestors could have made them so I recreate a honey only version and it worked very well.
This is the recipe my mother used. I love it because it is very tasty and it’s not too rich.
Flour: 1 pound (450 grams) plus a little extra if required
Granulated Sugar: 4 ounces plus 4 ounces
6 regular size eggs
2 ounces (55 g) 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
½ pound (225 g) good quality honey
Good frying oil (sunflower or peanut)
4 ounces ( 110 g) of candied lemon peel
4 ounces (110g) of candied orange peel
hundred of thousands to decorate
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 4 ounces 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 ½ inch/1.5cm thick.
Cut the sausages into small 1/3 inch/1cm 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 dry. 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.
5) Now in a saucepan put the honey, 4 ounces/100g of sugar and the water. Heat it slowly and stir continuously with a 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 a large 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 hundreds and thousands on the top and then add the silver/gold balls to decorate.
Wait until the syrup has settled and they’re cold before serving.