- Difficulty: Average
- Prep time: 30 min
- Cook time: 20 min
- Serving: 8 people
- Cost: Low
The Neapolitan tradition is rich in tasty treats, especially of the sweet variety, such as mostaccioli (soft, cake-like cookies covered in chocolate), amarena cherry cookies, sfogliatelle pastries, and, of course, struffoli, a staple on the dessert table at Christmastime. If you’ve never heard of struffoli before, all you need to know is that they’re little sweet dough balls that are fried and then dipped in honey and decorated with colored sprinkles and candied fruit. As for the origins of struffoli, we have to go all the way back to the days of the ancient Greeks, who seem to have brought them to the Gulf of Naples at the time of Parthenope. According to many, the name struffoli itself comes from the Greek word strongoulos, meaning “round in shape.” Other theories say the word “struffolo” comes from “strofinare” (“to rub”), which is the movement done by the person working the dough to roll it into a cylinder before cutting it into small pieces. Others still believe that struffoli get their name because they rub and tickle the palate with their sweet taste. Although struffoli are very well known and much loved, they are only really widespread in southern Italy, where you can find different versions that are, in any case, more or less similar to the original: in Calabria, they’re called circata, in Umbria and Abruzzo cicerchiata, and Palermo, strufoli. Today, we’d like to show you how easy it is to make them, with the recipe from the historic Neapolitan coffeehouse Caffè Gambrinus!
- Flour 00 4 ⅓ cups (500 g)
- Sugar 1 ½ tbsp (20 g)
- Fine salt 1 pinch
- Butter ½ cup (100 g)
- Eggs 3
- Egg yolks 2 - (from medium eggs)
- Baking soda ¾ tsp (4 g)
- Orange peel 1
- Anise liqueur 1 ¾ tbsp (25 g)
- Lemon peel 1
- For coating the struffoli
- Wildflower honey 1 ¾ cup (600 g)
- Sugar ½ cup (100 g)
- Lemon peel 1
- Orange peel 1
- Colored sprinkles to taste
- Candied orange 5 ¼ oz (150 g) - diced
- Candied cherries to taste
- Food decorations to taste - Silver sprinkles
- For frying
- Sunflower seed oil to taste
How to prepare Struffoli
To make the struffoli, start by sifting the flour onto a pastry board 1, then spread it out to form a well in the center 2. Add the salt 3.
Next, add the sugar 4 and baking soda 5. Cut the butter into cubes and place them in the well 6.
Start to knead the butter and sugar 7 with your hands, then add the eggs to the well one at a time 8, and keep kneading. Add the egg yolks, too 9.
Now add the anise liqueur 10 and lemon 11 and orange 12 zest.
Start to work the dough with your hands 13 or using a dough cutter to get a smooth, even dough 14. Once smooth and even, wrap the dough in plastic wrap 15 so it doesn’t dry out. Leave to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Take some of the dough 16, keeping the rest well covered at all times. Roll this dough into cylinders with a diameter of around ? inch (1 cm) 17, then cut them into small pieces around ? inch to ½ inch long (1-1.5 cm) 18.
As you cut the dough into pieces, transfer them to a tray covered with a clean dish towel, leaving space between them 19. Repeat these steps until all the dough has been formed into these small pieces. Now move on to the frying: Pour the oil into a large pot and heat it to a temperature between 300°F and 320°F (150-160°C). Immerse a few pieces of dough at a time, using a skimmer to help 20, and move them around a little while they’re cooking so they take on a round shape. Drain once they’ve turned nice and golden 21; this will take around 3-4 minutes.
Transfer the fried dough balls to a tray lined with paper towel to drain off the excess oil. Repeat these steps to cook all of the struffoli 22. Now move on to the decoration. Take the candied orange and cut it into cubes 23. Place the honey and sugar in a pot 24.
Heat over low heat, stirring from time to time 25. As soon as the mixture begins to boil, turn off the heat. Let it cool and then add the lemon 26 and orange 27 zest.
Add the chopped candied orange 28 and stir again 29. Let it cool for 5-6 minutes, then pour the struffoli into the pot 30.
Stir well with a wooden spoon until the struffoli are coated well and cool 31. Transfer to a serving dish and decorate with the colored sprinkles 32, candied orange peel, and candied cherries 33. Your struffoli are ready to enjoy!
Struffoli can be stored under a glass cake dome for 4-5 days. You can store struffoli that have been fried, but not coated yet, in a wooden box for one week.
Add 2 tbsp (40 g) of honey to the dough to make it shinier, more golden, and flavorful.
If you don’t have or don’t like anise liqueur, you can swap it for limoncello or another liqueur of your choice! Struffoli are often made without the addition of candied fruit, especially outside of the region of Campania: They’ll be just as good, even though candied fruit are a staple ingredient in Christmas desserts! Especially the famous cucuzzata, candied pumpkin that you can only find in Naples – if you do manage to find it, your struffoli will be perfect!
In Naples, struffoli used to be made in convents by the nuns of different orders and given as Christmas gifts to noble families who stood out for their charitable acts. Struffoli weren’t sweet originally – they were made using only water and flour, and then fried in lard.