A Continental Christmas: You’ll Catch More Flies With Struffoli Than With Vinegar

Italy is our next stop on this European culinary adventure with their traditional Christmas treat ‘Struffoli’. Tiny golden spheres of subtly citrus flavoured dough smothered in a honey glaze, and with the addition of a few scattered flaked almonds, these bite-sized sweets need nothing extra with them. Simply grab a handful from the wreath and dig in.

After first reading each of the rounds are formed from a dough, my instinct was to back away slowly (due to my less than perfect track record with yeast-leavened cakes and bread). However, this dough uses baking powder as the raising agent instead meaning, not only will not be further tarnished, but I also don’t have to wait for the yeast to do its thing for 3 hours before being able to fry these off. The baking powder gives each round an open texture, much like the doughnuts we all know and love, but with a slight cake-like feel.

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Added to my fear of using yeast in baking, I also have an aversion to deep-fat frying. Not necessarily because it’s unhealthy, but because we own an electric hob. These things have minds of their own and it is very difficult to maintain a constant oil temperature with the ring heating up, then turning off, then heating up again whenever it feels like it. Monitoring the temperature constantly (which was a feat in itself), I managed to keep the range between 320F and 360F. This fluctuation in temperature meant it was easier to judge whether the dough balls were done by their colour as opposed to time, but if you have a more reliable stovetop, then I would say it would be much easier to go by time (2-3 mins each). So good luck to electric hob owners, and just know I feel your pain.

The orange and lemon zest added to the dough provides the citrus notes, which are so well associated with the festive season but pairing these flavours with honey lifts them to a whole new level. This combination would be something I, personally, would associate more with the spring season due to the floral undertones of the honey, but it works regardless. And when fried in the oil, the crispy outer coating provides the perfect surface for the glaze to stick to and encases the airy dough inside.

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Utterly moreish, the glaze in which the dough balls are tossed is so simple and yet so divine. In my books, honey is an ingredient which should never be tarnished with any other strong additives or extras and should instead be left alone. When its high-quality honey (like the stuff we buy from a bee-keeper friend of ours)  it seems only right we leave it to shine in a way which highlights and features the unique flavours of each individual batch in the best way possible. This is it. This is the best way possible.

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THE RECIPE

Ingredients

For the Dough
2 Cups Plain Flour, plus extra for dusting
1 Large Lemon, zested (about 2 tsp)
1/2 Large orange, zested (about 2 tsp)
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cubed & at room temperature
3 Large, free-range eggs
1 tbsp white wine
1 tsp vanilla extract
Unflavoured oil, for frying

For the Glaze
1 Cup honey
1/2 Cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

Method

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 2 cups of flour, lemon zest, orange zest, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
  2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the eggs, wine, and vanilla. Pulse until the mixture forms into a ball.
  3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Cut the dough into 4 equal-sized pieces. Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece of dough until 1/4-inch thick. Cut each piece of dough into 1/2-inch wide strips and cut each strip of pastry into 1/2-inch pieces.
  5. Roll each piece of dough into a small ball about the size of a hazelnut; dredge the dough balls in flour before shaking off any excess.
  6. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour enough oil to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted in the oil reaches 375F/180c. (If you don’t have a thermometer a cube of bread will brown in about 3 minutes.).
  7. In batches, fry the dough until lightly golden (about 2 to 3 minutes) and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
  8. In a large saucepan, combine the honey, sugar, and lemon juice over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved.
  9. Tip in all of the drained balls of dough, and toss in the glaze until completely coated in the honey-sugar mixture.
  10. Arrange as desired on a plate – traditionally in a ring shape to represent a wreath. Scatter over flaked almonds or candied orange peel if desired.

Notes: Adapted from the Food Network Struffoli recipe

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