What Is Struffoli?

Jack Magnus

Struffoli is a Neapolitan dessert that is traditionally prepared at Christmastime. It is made of tiny dough balls that have been deep-fried and soaked in honey. They are served piled high on plates and trays, and are frequently covered with multi-colored candy sprinkles, or confettini.

Struffoli is soaked in honey after frying.
Struffoli is soaked in honey after frying.

This dish is said to have originated in Naples, and it has become a traditional Italian holiday treat. Cooks make large quantities of these tiny honey balls for friends and family. When one visits relatives during the holidays, a plate or platterful of struffoli often is brought along as a gift for the host.

Orange zest is sometimes added to struffoli dough.
Orange zest is sometimes added to struffoli dough.

The dough is made of flour, eggs and, sometimes, butter. Lemon and orange zest are sometimes added to the dough ingredients, as is sugar. Zest is the grated peel of citrus fruit. It can be purchased or one can grate the peel of fresh fruit, taking care to avoid grating the bitter, white inner rind. While the ingredients would traditionally be added gradually to a pile of flour, most modern bakers use an electric mixer to make the dough. After it is prepared, it is covered with a towel or plastic wrap and left to set for about an hour.

There are several methods of rolling the tiny dough balls. The dough can be rolled quite thin and then cut into tiny strips that are rolled into shape. Others take handfuls of dough and fashion long ropes the width of a pinky, from which small nuggets of dough are cut. The important thing is to make the balls very small, because they cook best when tiny.

The oil is heated in a deep, heavy pot until a piece of dough will brown in about a minute. The struffoli are lowered into the hot oil in small batches and removed when they have browned, usually within a few minutes. The fried dough balls are left to drain on plates that have been lined with paper towels to catch the extra oil.

Honey sauce is made of honey, sugar and, sometimes, lemon juice. These ingredients are put in a saucepan and heated until the honey is liquefied but not boiling. The struffoli are then dropped into the honey mixture and thoroughly coated.

Some cooks pile struffoli high on plates and trays, while others use the deep-fried honey balls to create a festive wreath. A glass jar is placed on a tray, and the struffoli are piled up around it. After the honey has solidified, the jar can be removed and the struffoli wreath will retain its shape. The food is then decorated with multi-colored candy sprinkles and candied fruit.

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