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Struffoli Napoletani, A Family Tradition.... The Gluten-Free Way

We are always so excited to hear from our followers and recently, we've received quite a few emails requesting for this amazing family recipe that we have converted into a gluten-free alternative.


Neapolitan desserts have always been popular and universally loved. They are considered real art and are an integral part of the history and tradition of the city. Each typical dessert brings back unforgettable childhood memories and emotions, especially at Christmas time when the sweet aroma of freshly baked desserts and pastries fills the air. There are many favorites, but ‘struffoli’ are at the top of our list. It seems that the name ‘struffolo’ derives from the verb “to rub,” which is actually the gesture performed when the dough is rolled into a long tube, which is then cut into small pieces.


Struffoli (honey balls) are perhaps the most famous Neapolitan Christmas sweets that are never lacking in Southern Italy during the holidays and can be found in many homes and pastry shops, especially in the Campania region. I grew up eating these delicious little gems during Christmas and, the more honey they have the happier you are! Struffoli have ancient origins with each region and family having their own variation that has been handed down from generation to generation. Every family believes that their own struffoli recipe is the best one or the authentic one. Personally, I loved every single one I’ve tasted to date! It’s those of tradition that have been handed down from a grandmother, a mother or an aunt who is a nun. According to historians, the best dessert recipes have come to life from convents and monasteries. Struffoli were prepared in the convents of Naples by nuns of various orders and given as a gift at Christmas to noble families who had distinguished themselves for acts of charity.


Our historic family recipe is one that is close and dear to my heart, which we have converted into a gluten-free alternative. My mamma has an “ancient” agenda that she uses to sometimes jot down notes when wanting to experiment and make some modifications so that she could remember what she did to the original recipe. It’s not easy to read and somewhat difficult to understand but, I found her additions interesting, which made me want to experiment as well.


The final touch that makes struffoli so incredibly delicious is to cover them in hot honey and then decorated with ‘i diavulilli’ or, as my mamma calls them, ‘riavulill’ meaning little devils, an adorable name for colored sprinkles. They are truly addictive little jewels that are impossible to resist! We decided to try something different and decorate them with sanding sugar sprinkles. They were delectable!

In addition to using small round sprinkles, I have seen my family in Naples include the following to decorate this delectable dessert:

  • Sliced almonds (add them when mixing struffoli and honey mixture in the pot)

  • Candied cherries

  • Orange Citron

  • Small Italian Sugared Almonds - “Confetti

Here is our gluten-free version of the recipe! We hope you enjoy them as much as we have!


Yields: 4 to 6 servings

Prep Time: 1 hour 10 min

Cooking Time: 2 to 3 minutes


Ingredients:

For The Dough:

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free all purpose baking flour

  • 1/2 cup finely grounded almond flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthin gum (omit if your gluten-free baking flour already contains xanthin)

  • 2 eggs plus 1 yolk, room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon caster superfine baker’s sugar

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  • 2 tablespoons oat milk (can sub with whole milk or almond milk)

  • 1 tablespoon anise liquor (can sub with Strega or rum)

  • 1 envelope of Paneangeli Vanillina (https://amzn.to/30kSzNc) (can sub with 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)

  • Zest of 1/2 orange

  • Zest of 1/2 lemon

  • Pinch of sea salt

For Frying:

Organic Sunflower or Cold-Pressed Canola Oil


For Honey Mixture:

1/2 cup honey (wildflower is best)

1 tablespoon sugar

Zest of 1/2 lemon


Directions:

For The Dough:

1. In a mixing bowl, sift together the gluten-free flour, almond flour, xanthan gum and mix well. Create a well in the center and add the eggs, sugar, butter, milk, anise liquor, vanilla, zest of orange and lemon, and salt. Begin mixing with a fork then knead with hands for about 5 minutes, adding additional flour if needed, until you get a homogenous soft round dough. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen cloth and let dough rest for 30 to 45 minutes.


2. Place dough on a floured surface and using a rolling pin, roll out dough to a disk about 1/4 inch thick. Using a knife, cut rolled out dough into long strips, about 1/4 inch wide, then roll each strip into a cylinder with the palm of your hands and cut into small dices (about 1/4 inch). Add flour to dices as you cut and gently mix them so that they don’t stick together or to the surface.


For Frying:

3. Heat about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of oil in a high-sided non-stick frying pan. Place a baking sheet lined with paper towels next to the pan. When oil is hot, add struffoli a little at a time with a spider strainer so that you don’t burn yourself and cook on medium flame until golden brown (about 2 minutes), while continually stirring with a wooden spoon. Place them in the prepared baking sheet.


For Honey Mixture:

4. Place honey, sugar, and lemon zest in a high-sided nonstick sauce pan and bring mixture to a boil over moderate heat. When a light foam begins to form, add struffoli and mix gently to evenly coat them. Turn heat off, continue to gently mix struffoli and honey and once well combined, place them in a serving platter of your choice or even in decorative baking cups.


5. Garnish with colored sprinkles (diavolilli) and/or any of the additions listed above.


Notes:

*You can bake the struffoli instead of frying. Preheat oven to 355 degrees F (180 degrees C) and arrange cut struffoli slightly spaced on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let them rest for 10 minutes then bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.


A Side Note: Struffoli is one of those desserts that once you start eating, you can’t seem to stop. Been there many times myself! So, try to consume these festive little wonders in moderation!


There is a Neapolitan saying that goes like this, “Mamma Mia, stanne troppi ccalurie so’ pesante, fanno male? Si va buo’, ma e’ Natale!” - in other words - Mamma Mia, literally meaning “my mother!” is an exclamation expressing annoyance, fatigue, fear, excitement etc. so, “Mamma Mia, too many calories, they are heavy and full of calories? Yeah ok, but it’s Christmas!”


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