For most Italians, Christmas is definitely the season of heavy-duty cooking and baking (far more than usual). This is when we all pull out all the stops and serve the elaborate cuisine that we wouldn’t serve regularly, usually due to the complexity or richness of the dish. But on Christmas it’s alright; it’s a special time of the year. Also, we come to appreciate these special dishes all the more because we have them so infrequently.
When I was very young and being of the sweet tooth persuasion, Christmas was obviously one of the best times of the year for treats. One of my favorite dishes was struffoli, a Napoleon dessert, also referred to as honey clusters or honey cake. My Italian grandparents used to make it every year at Christmastime. Every December I would eagerly wait for my grandparents to come to our house with a tin of homemade struffoli. This was a once a year treat as struffoli is commonly a Christmas dessert (some make it for Easter as well, but generally it’s associated with the Christmas season).
When I got older and more able, my grandparents invited me over to help make the struffoli. We all had a great time together, but I can now see why this dessert is only made once a year. It is a very long process, and it is definitely a multi-person job. I do not recommend attempting to make struffoli solo; you really need at least two people working at it.
Once the dough was ready, my grandparents and I quickly came up with a system. I would roll the dough out, Grandma would cut the dough in to bite-sized pieces, and then passed the pieces along to my Grandpa who was in charge of the deep-fryer (it was a very manly job, according to Grandpa).
Although it was a lot of work, I always had so much fun making struffoli with my grandparents. My grandpa would tell me how when he was young, his mother would make great big piles of struffoli. She apparently made so much that she ran out of places to put all the struffoli and had to resort to storing some of it in the bedroom that Grandpa shared with his younger brother.My grandpa and his brother would steal more than just a few pieces of struffoli. No matter how many times their mother reprimanded the boys for eating too much, all she would do was huff back to the kitchen to make more.
Our family’s struffoli making has lived on, but so has the struffoli stealing. Periodically, all three of us would all sneak a few pieces of struffoli while they were still hot from the deep-fryer. My grandma, in particular, kept passing me warm stuffoli so I could taste it.
“Stop eating the struffoli!” my grandpa would scold us (in the same vein as his mother) while my grandma would scoff at him. His reprimand was usually contradicted a few minutes later when Grandpa would start giving me more struffoli “to test out.”
No matter how much we ate, we always ended up having more than enough struffoli in time for Christmas. The fun I had baking with my grandparents always made serving and eating our homemade treats on Christmas all the more enjoyable.
Try this recipe for struffoli from http://flavorsofitaly.blogspot.com this year. There are many different ways of making struffoli, but this recipe most closely matches how my grandparents and I made it:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- vegetable oil for frying
- 1 cup honey
- Multicolored candy sprinkles
- In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt.
- Add the eggs and zest. Stir until well blended.
- Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes.
- Add a little more flour if dough seems sticky.
- Shape the dough into a ball, cover with an overturned bowl. Let rest for 30 minutes.
- Roll the dough into 1/2-inch thick ropes then cut into 1/2-inch nuggets.
- Heat about 2 inches of oil to 370 degrees F in a wide saucepan or deep fryer.
- Begin adding struffoli in batches into the oil to fit without crowding.
- Cook, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until crisp and brown, about 1 minute.
- Remove the struffoli with the slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain.
- When all the struffoli are fried, gently heat the honey just to a simmer in a wide saucepan.
- Remove the honey from the heat, add the struffoli and coat well.
- Pile the struffoli into a mound on a large platter. Dust with the multicolored sprinkles.
Written by OSIA National Office Administrative Assistant, Laura Kelly.