One of my most cherished Christmas memories dates back to Brooklyn, New York, circa 1978. One evening, while visiting my grandparents for the holidays, my mother decided to visit an old high school friend. For a reason I still can not fathom, I pitched a childish fit and refused to go. In an uncharacteristic move, my parents actually gave in to me, and allowed me to stay behind with my grandparents. Lucky for me, it was the evening my grandmother had chosen to make the Christmas Struffoli.
I vividly remember sitting next to her at the Formica kitchen table, watching her mix the dough for the Italian delights my entire family adored. First she used the dough to make "oilyettes", her special pretzel-shaped cookies, which would later be deep fried and then covered with clover honey and colored nonpareil sprinkles. I tried over and over again to replicate the pretzel shape that she fashioned so effortlessly. While hers were perfect little bows, mine were basically a mess. My grandmother had the patience of a saint, and never once complained that what should have taken a half an hour was taking double the amount of time. My oilyette-challenged fingers were chalked up to my young age, but now I'm in my 30s and still cannot approximate her deftness.
Once the oilyettes were formed, and laid in perfect rows atop waxed paper, we would use the remaining dough to make the struffoli. Since these simply required sections of dough to be rolled into small balls, my confidence was reinstated. My grandmother and I were able to work side-by-side, quickly rolling the dough and covering the table with marble-sized balls. When it was time to fry the dough, I carefully watched as the white, raw dough was transformed into golden cookies, right before my eyes. Once cooled, we honeyed and sprinkled the oilyettes and struffoli, and put them on the dining room sideboard until the next day...Christmas Eve.
Although my grandmother has been gone over eighteen years, my mother and I diligently make her struffoli each and every Christmas. We always try our hand at the oilyettes, but always end up defaulting to the struffoli. They are still a family favorite, and I look forward to continuing the tradition with my girls as they grow. Buon Natale!
Makes about 4 dozen
2 ½ cups flour
½ cup sugar
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 Tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon or orange extract (or lemon or orange oil)
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup honey
1 Tablespoon multicolored nonpareil sprinkles
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a small bowl, beat together the egg, milk, butter, vanilla and citrus extract.
Stir egg mixture into flour mixture and combine to make a soft, pliable dough.
In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 inches of oil.
Meanwhile, on a floured surface, roll dough into ropes and cut into small pieces (¼-½” pieces). Roll each piece into a marble-sized ball.
Fry in oil about a minute, until they rise to top and are golden.
Fry in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Allow oil to return to temperature between batches.
Drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
In a medium saucepan, heat honey to a boil.
Remove from heat and stir in the strufoli balls until completely coated.
Transfer to a platter.
When completely cooled, top with colored sprinkles.
STORAGE: Cover struffoli loosely with tin-foil and serve at room temperature for 2-3 days.
Above photo by BravaBravaMariarosa.