Local Taste

Struffoli, the Christmas dessert you’ll need for this festive season

By Annamaria Parlato

Also known as honey balls, it’s an Italian dish made of deep-fried balls of sweet dough decorated with honey, sprinkles, and candied fruit. Tasty and colorful, struffoli are so much more than a dessert: they embody the Christmas spirit and, with each bite, bring back memories and feelings.

A long tradition in the Amalfi Coast

During Christmas time in Campania, and especially on the Amalfi Coast, any authentic holiday table needs struffoli. Even if struffoli can be found in local patisseries, it is traditionally homemade by the families that take this chance to cook together and share a special moment of affection. Some people also like to prepare the struffoli as gifts for their friends and other local delicacies such as mostacciuoli, boiled zeppole, roccocò, and susamielli. Nowadays, though, bakers offer different variations on the original recipe regarding preparation, decoration, and even the presentation. «The Amalfi Coast lemon, also known as sfusato amalfitano, is the king of the coast, our yellow gold. That’s why here we prefer to use the lemon in various recipes rather than orange peels, candied or otherwise. Lemon can be used differently in the same dish: on its own, to give taste to the dessert, we can add lemon-infused honey, and even serve the dish on lemon leaves, something that enriches the flavor and that is aesthetically pleasing. Now more than ever, given the moment we live in, we as professionals have to pass onto our students the principles that will help them navigate this field with knowledge. That’s why my students and I usually cook together traditional desserts such as struffoli so that they can cherish the secrets behind the preparation and innovate, » told us Luigi Di Ruocco, an executive chef who is also a professor at the Istituto Alberghiero P. Comité in Maiori and the President of the Associazione Cuochi Salernitani (an association of chefs from Salerno).

Photo courtesy of Istituto Alberghiero P. Comite, Maiori

A little bit of history

There are different origin stories for the struffoli, but the most accepted one is that it was a Greek dessert that we have imported. If we look at the word’s etymology, we can see that struffolo could come from the Greek words strongoulos, which means round, and pristòs, which means cut.  Others believe that its name could come from the Italian term “strofinare” which in a kitchen setting refers to rubbing the dough to create cookies, or in this case, small dough balls. Moreover, wrongly, some think it could be linked to another connotation of the word “strofinare” that refers to something that tastes so good that it tickles the palate. But the origin of this delicious dessert is not the only interesting about it. The struffoli are famous and loved in southern Italy, but they go by a different name depending on the location. So we’ll have cirata or turdiddiin Calabria, cicerchiata in Abruzzo, and strufoli in Palermo. Another curious side note: in the past nuns of different orders from Naples were making struffoli and then giving them to the wealthiest families of the area that had stood out for charity acts.

Do you want to make struffoli? Here’s how!

First of all, the proper form of the struffoli must be the small balls. Why, would you ask so that the dough ball can be covered by honey and taste better. To create the dough, you need to mix sugar, flour 00, lard, orange peel, eggs, and a little bit of a dry liquor; after mixing all these ingredients, it’s important to leave it to rest awhile before dividing it into equal parts. Once you have done it, you can create small dough sticks roughly of the same size and cut them into little pieces to make the small balls we need. The following step is to fry these balls in boiling oil until they turn golden brown; then, it’s essential to remove them from the pan and place them aside so that the oil in excess can dry off. While you wait for them to cool down, you need to heat the honey in a pan and, once it’s ready, pour it on the dough balls making sure to blend everything. You can add sprinkles, candied fruits such as cherries, and even pieces of candied pumpkin called cucuzzata for decorating your dessert. Now you can place everything in a beautiful Christmas plate and add, if you like, some hazelnut crunch, a symbol of prosperity and abundance.

 

(Translation by Michela Pandolfi)

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