Struffoli: the origins and recipe

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Struffoli: the origins and recipe

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Struffoli are a typical desserts of the Christmas tradition in Massa Lubrense and, more generally, of the southern gastronomic tradition, mainly the Neapolitan one.

Also known as strangolapre(ve)te, struffoli look like small balls of sweet dough fried and then dipped in honey, decorated with colored sugared almonds and citron. A true delight that cannot be missed on Christmas dessert tables.

The origins of this dessert with a typically Neapolitan taste have much further roots. Well yes, according to tradition, it was the ancient Greeks who brought struffoli to the Gulf of Naples. In fact, it is precisely from the Greek that the name of this typical dessert derives, more precisely from the word “strongolus”, i.e. from the rounded shape. Another theory still linked to the etymology of the term would be that “struffolo” derives from the verb to rub to indicate the gesture made by those who work the dough, to roll it into a cylinder before cutting it into balls. According to others, struffoli are called like this because they rub the palate due to their goodness.

In Naples, once upon a time, struffoli were prepared in the convents by the nuns of the various orders and given as gifts for Christmas to noble families who had distinguished themselves for acts of charity. Probably, struffoli have become a typical Christmas dessert because one of the fundamental ingredients is honey, an element closely linked to the Catholic and Christian symbolism regarding love.

Today, struffoli are part of the Campania confectionery tradition, but each central-southern region has its own version. In Calabria and Basilicata they are known as “cicirata” due to their resemblance to chickpeas, in Abruzzo they are called “cicerchiata” because they resemble grass peas and in Palermo they are called “strufoli“. Each southern region prepares them according to its own traditions and recipes handed down from family to family.

The traditional recipe

Ingredients for the dough

  • 200g of sugar
  • 500g of flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 60g of butter
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1 lemon peel
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 15g of anise liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • peanut oil for frying

Ingredients for decorating

  • 175g of wildflower honey
  • silver sprinkles and food decorations
  • 30g of candied citron
  • 30g of candied cherries
  • 30g of candied orange

Preparation of struffoli

Mix the flour, sugar, butter and eggs, the grated lemon and orange, a pinch of salt, the glass of anise, vanilla and cinnamon in a bowl. Knead until you create a compact dough, cover it with a clean cloth and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 6/7 equal parts with a knife and cut into smaller and smaller parts until you obtain the struffoli of the right size. Place the struffoli on a cloth and fry them for 3 minutes in boiling oil and mix to obtain even cooking and browning. Once ready, transfer the struffoli to a tray covered with absorbent paper to remove excess oil. In the meantime, melt the honey in a saucepan.

Cut the cherries, citron and candied orange into cubes. Add everything to the struffoli, pour in the honey and mix well with a wooden ladle until the struffoli are completely wrapped in honey and leave to cool.

Transfer the mixture onto a serving plate and complete the dessert with decorations, sugared almonds and candied fruit. And now, all that remains is to taste the typical Christmas dessert!