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Struffoli -- Neapolitan Christmas Treats

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Struffoli -- Neapolitan Christmas Treats
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 in his Christmas menu. To make a batch you will need:

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • ** 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
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pot full of olive oil for frying
  • ** For the seasoning (for want of a better term) **
  • 3/4 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 (50 g) candied orange peel, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips
  • 2 ounces (50 g) candied citron, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips
  • 2 ounces (50 g) candied melon rind, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips

Preparation:

Continuing with the introduction, the recipe for struffoli is quite old, as is indicated by the presence of variations throughout the Mediterranean Basin -- Ms. Francesconi mentions the Lukumates of the Greeks, and there are also the Precipizi Italian Jews make for Hanukkah.

The recipe:
Combine the ingredients for the dough to make a workable dough, knead it well, and let it sit for at least an hour, covered. Pluck off piece 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.

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 with age.

Note: A reader wrote to say she had problems getting the dough made with 4 eggs and 3 1/3 cups flour 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 and 4 1/5 in her recipe (this works out to an egg per 100 grams flour). The resulting dough will come out 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 fried, at which point the pieces puff up, "forming light, crunchy dough nuts." Pasta dough is stiff.

User Reviews

 4 out of 5
We call this Pinulata, Member cinven

This is very similar to a Christmas dessert that we grew up with that my Nana made every year. After forming into a ring we sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar and jordan almonds. Our family was from Calabria so this must be a variation...

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