Struffoli is not something I make every Christmas. Just like my mom, I would try it every few years, always saying afterwards, “never again.” It is very time consuming, and, quite frankly, back breaking, especially if you are doing it alone. While going through the many recipes that both my mom and I have collected over the years, I could not help but wonder how many ways can there possibly be to make dough and fry it up? But collectively, we had a dozen different recipes from various different woman. Every time I decide to make struffoli, as I did this year, I look at all the different recipes and decide which one I will follow. Even though they are basically the same, they do produce a different tasting result. Of course, I always seem to pick “Little Nonni’s ” recipe, as that is the taste I remember and love. Now you may question just how different can all these recipes be. It makes sense to think this way. But let me tell you…all struffoli are not created equal. Some families like them small and dense. Other like them larger and airy. Also, the honey that you choose to use will give your struffoli a distinct flavor. This year I went with a local honey (since local is the thing nowadays) and the taste was different, and I must say, spectacular. But my grandmothers struffoli always tasted the same for many decades, and I am sure this is due to the fact that there was probably on one brand of honey available at the supermarkets in those day.
I will transcribe the recipe that I use, but let me give you some tips before we begin. First off, this dough can be made in the Cuisinart or Kitchen Aid, with the dough blade or attachment, but to me the ritual of creating a well of flour and slowly incorporating the eggs and other ingredients signifies the true meaning of “cooking with love.” I remember the beautiful hands of little Nonni, big Nonni (my mother’s mother, who was only big by comparison..not really a big woman) and my mother, twirling the eggs around and around, gathering every bit of flour until it was all incorporated. The patience that they exhibited while performing this act, expressed the love that they felt for their families. Today, I sat and made this dough by myself, as if I was in a meditative state, thinking of these women, and feeling gratitude for the time they spent teaching me how to make these delicious treats that delight my family. It seemed like nothing then, but I feel so lucky now. As we sat and rolled out the dough like long pencils and cut them into tiny pieces, they would tell stories and laugh, and of course talk about what we would be baking tomorrow or cooking for dinner that night. Usually a family secret would be revealed and we would be sworn into secrecy. It was a female right of passage.
So after you have incorporated all the flour and eggs into a nice, moist dough, knead it a bit, scraping up some of the bits of flour left behind. I tend to discard most of the flour left behind as it is a lot of work to keep kneading this in. However, I am sure my 4 foot 9 inch grandmother scraped up every bit of flour and did not waste a thing. She put all her weight and strength into the kneading process. She certainly did not need to work out in a gym. Just a few holidays a year kept her in perfect shape!
4 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
Combine flour, baking powder and salt and then form into a well on a pastry board. Put eggs and oil in the middle of the well and slowly incorporate all ingredients until a moist dough is formed. Add more flour if needed. Let the dough sit for one hour.
Break off pieces of the dough and roll into long pencil size ropes. Then slice into no more than 1/2 inch pieces.
Put about an inch or so of oil into a deep fry pan and heat the oil. I have never used a thermometer, but the oil is ready when you drop one piece of dough in and the oil sizzles up nicely.Slide in as many struffoli as you can without overcrowding. Stir a few times during this process, but they should ready to be removed in about two minutes or so. They should be golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove and place on paper towels to drain. Continue frying in batches.
When all the struffoli are fried, heat the honey in a large fry pan. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. shut of the heat and add the struffoli, stirring to coat. Once well coated, spoon onto a large dinner plate in the shape of a wreath. spoon all excess honey over the struffoli. Decorate with colored sprinkles or colored sugar.