Struffoli Neapolitan Christmas Sweets Recipe

Struffoli Honey Balls
Tania Mattiello / Getty Images
    80 mins

Struffoli, tiny balls of crisp-fried dough, either shaped like a wreath or piled into a pyramid and topped with a honey glaze and colorful candy sprinkles and/or candied fruit, are now an absolute requirement at the end of a traditional Neapolitan Christmas Day dinner. However, in introducing them in La Cucina Napoletana, Caròla Francesconi says their inclusion is relatively recent. They are mentioned several times in an Italian cookery book from 1634 but aren't included in that book's Christmas menu.

The recipe for  struffoli is quite old, as is indicated by the presence of variations throughout the Mediterranean basin -- they are related to the Lukumates of the Greeks, and also to the Precipizi that Italian Jews make for Hanukkah.

[Edited by Danette St. Onge]

What You'll Need

  • For the dough: 
  • 3 1/3 cups (400 g) flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of grain alcohol
  • 1 chunk of butter (the size of a small walnut)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1 pinch ​of fine sea salt
  • 1 potful of olive oil for frying
  • For the glaze and serving:
  • 3/4 pound (300 g) honey
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 ounces diavolilli (tiny, variously colored candied almonds)
  • 4 candied cherries, halved
  • 2 ounces (50 g) candied orange peel, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips
  • 2 ounces (50 g) candied citron, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips
  • 2 ounces (50 g) candied melon rind, half finely diced and half cut into fine strips

How to Make It

  1. Combine the ingredients for the dough to make a workable dough, knead it well, and let it sit for at least 1 hour, covered.
  2. Pluck off pieces and roll them out using your fingers to form snakes about as thin as your pinkie, and cut them into 1/4 inch-long pieces.
  3. Fry the pieces a few at a time in hot oil until brown, and drain them on absorbent paper. Should the oil start to froth after a bit, and the froth overflow the pot, change the oil.
  2. Take a second, preferably round-bottomed pot and put the honey, sugar and water in it.
  3. Boil the mixture until the foam dies down and it begins to turn yellow. At this point reduce the heat as much as possible and add the struffoli and the diced candied fruit.
  4. Stir to distribute everything evenly through the honey and turn the mixture out onto a plate.
  5. Shape the mixture into a wreath with a hole in the middle, dipping your hands frequently into cold water lest you burn yourself.
  6. Sprinkle the candied fruit strips and the diavolilli over the ring and arrange the cherry halves evenly.
  7. Struffoli will keep a week or more if covered and improve with age.

Note: A reader wrote to say she had problems getting the dough made with 4 eggs and 3 1/3 cups flour to hold together, and wondered if the proportions were correct. They are; Ms. Francesconi calls for 6 eggs and 5 cups of flour for her grandmother's recipe, and Angie, SupEreva's cooking Guide (a native Campanian) calls for 5 and 4 1/5 in her recipe (this works out to an egg per 100 grams flour). The resulting dough will come out stiff, and it will take a fair amount of kneading to distribute the moisture from the eggs (the eggs I've found in Italian markets are generally about the size of the large eggs sold in North America) evenly throughout the flour. If the dough shows no signs of wanting to hold together, add just enough water for it to stay together and no more; it should be stiff. Why the stiffness? As Arthur Schwartz points out in his wonderful book, Naples at Table (Harper Collins), struffoli are essentially pasta dough that's rolled out into snakes, broken into bits, and fried, at which point the pieces puff up, "forming light, crunchy doughnuts." Pasta dough is stiff.