Raise your hands if you are into traditions! I am!!
“Struffoli” (honey balls) are perhaps the most famous Neapolitan Christmas sweets that are never lacking in southern Italy during the holidays! 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 (I have one or two!) According to historians, 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 I hold close to my heart, which I have converted into a gluten-free alternative. My mom has an “ancient” agenda from when we moved to the states that she uses to sometimes jot down notes when wanting to experiment and make some modifications to the traditional recipe so that she could remember what she did. 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. Also, I had to make some modifications such as, what my mom calls in Neapolitan “e diavulille”, meaning little devils - an adorable name for colored sprinkles. I didn’t have any of the traditional ones (https://amzn.to/3aleYfW) so I modified - they still came out delicious!
In addition, I’ve seen my family in Naples decorate this delectable dessert with the following:
Sliced almonds (add them when mixing struffoli and honey mixture in the pot)
Small Italian Sugared Almonds - “Confetti”
Here is my gluten-free recipe! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
For The Dough:
1 1/2 cups gluten-free 1:1 baking flour
1/2 cup finely grounded almond flour (https://amzn.to/3r3VyC5)
1/2 teaspoon xanthin gum (omit if your gluten-free baking flour already contains xanthin) (https://amzn.to/3h0mNJk)
2 eggs + 1 yolk, room temperature
1 tablespoon caster superfine baker’s sugar (https://amzn.to/3mtBpSn)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons oat milk (can sub with whole milk or almond milk)
1 tablespoon anise liqueur or strega (can also sub with rum)
1 envelope of Paneangeli Vanillina - an Italian Baking Secrete easy to find in the US (https://amzn.to/2WmYbAX)
Zest of 1/2 orange
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of sea salt
Organic Sunflower (https://amzn.to/34nHDNp") or Cold-Pressed Canola Oil
For Honey Mixture:
1/2 cup honey (wildflower is best) (https://amzn.to/2Kx77RE)
1 tablespoon sugar
Zest of 1/2 lemon
For The Dough:
In a mixing bowl, sift the gluten-free flour, almond flour, xanthin 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 it becomes homogenous and you get a soft round dough. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen cloth and let dough rest for 30 minutes.
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.
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 (https://amzn.to/3aidtPy) 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:
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.
Garnish with colored sprinkles (diavolilli) and/or any of the additions listed above.
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, etc. so, “Mamma Mia, too many calories, they are heavy, are they bad? Yeah, ok but it’s Christmas!”
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