If You have never encountered Struffoli Before, they are best described visually at any rate as the croquembouche of southern Italy: small dough balls.
I mean really small, the size of marbles, that is deep-fried and then rolled in honey before being assembled into a cone as in the French piled-up profiteroles model or a bulging wreath.
Since I was taught the recipe by a pair of Calabrian sisters, I make mine as their mamma makes hers; and this takes the wreath form.
- 2 Tablespoons Semolina
- 6 Eggs
- 1 Tablespoon Sugar
- Zest 1 Unwaxed Lemon and Finely Grated
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3–3⅓ Cups Flour Plus More For Rolling
- ½ Teaspoon Baking Powder
- 2½–3 Quarts Flavorless Vegetable Oil for Frying
- 1½ Cups Honey
- To Decorate use 2 Teaspoons (Approx.) Christmas Sprinkles
- Get out a large, rimmed baking sheet and shake the semolina over the base. And get out another tray (it doesn’t have to be a baking sheet) and line it with a double layer of paper towels. Set both aside while you get on with the dough.
- Beat the eggs, sugar, finely grated lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil until frothy.
- Gradually add about 2⅔ cups of the flour and the baking powder, and mix to a dough. If it is too sticky then add more flour and keep kneading.
- Using either your hands or a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook, until you have a smooth, pliable dough. This doesn’t take very long: probably around 3 minutes or 5 by hand.
- Flour your work surface and turn out your dough. Then divide the dough into 10 roughly equal pieces, each about the size of a golf ball. Take 1 ball and roll it into a rope approx. ½ inch thick.
- Then with floury hands divide this into about 20 small pieces, and roll each piece between your hands (flouring them again if this helps) to make marble-sized balls. Place the formed balls of dough on the semolina-sprinkled baking sheet, as you shape them.
- Repeat the process with the remaining golf-ball-sized portions of dough: you should make a staggering 200 of the tiny balls!
- Heat the vegetable oil in a wide, heavy pan—about 11 inches diameter and at least 6 inches deep—and then when the oil is at 375°F but no higher (you can leave a preserving or candy thermometer in if you want).
- Or a piece of bread sizzles and browns immediately when dropped in the pan, you can begin to cook the dough balls. Regulate the temperature and keep a careful eye on the pan and the oil all the time.
- Gently lower, using a mesh scoop or perforated spoon, about 15 little dough balls at a time. At first, they will sink and then, as they cook, they’ll float to the surface and begin to turn golden brown.
- This will take up to about 1 minute depending on how many you have in at a time, but be ready to fish them out with your mesh scoop or perforated spoon onto the paper towel-lined tray as soon as they become the right golden color. And keep watching your pan.
- Continue to cook them in batches—making sure the oil returns to the correct temperature but doesn’t get too hot or bubble too vigorously—until they are all fried; you can pile them up on the tray without harm. Now turn off the heat under the oil pan, and move on to the adhesive and assembly stage.
- Pour the honey into a roasting pan that can go on the stove, and heat very gently until it becomes runny—a matter of moments, so do not leave the pan—then take it off the heat.
- Tip all of the fried dough balls into the warmed honey and, using a soft spatula, turn them gently to coat them. Get out a large plate or cake stand with a slight lip or rim and with wet hands
- Check the balls are not too hot then pick up the sticky balls and arrange them around the outer edge of the plate in the shape of a bobbly wreath, leaving just a small empty circle in the middle. Do not worry about symmetry or perfection or counting dough balls here, please.
- Wash the honey from your hands and shake your chosen sprinkles over the sticky wreath, then stand back and admire, before placing your creation where others can do likewise.
- These Struffoli are best, to my mind, eaten on the day they’re made. Use a scoop or spoon and fork to serve. It will be a sticky affair, but that’s part of their charm.
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