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The “struffoli” and two Neapolitan Christmas pastries


The “struffoli” are small balls of dough which are fried and sweetened with honey. Maybe this is the oldest dessert in the world. It has been handed down with passion and determination until the present days just thanks to the Neapolitan confectioner’s art. This dessert is the symbol of this art together with the baba, the “sfogliatella” (a typical Neapolitan cake in crispy layers stuffed with a special cream) and the  “pastiera” (a cake made with ricotta which is always eaten at Easter-time in Naples and above all in Southern Italy). The name derives from the ancient Greek “strongoulos” which means rounded whereas “pristòs” means cut. Maybe strangolapre(ve)te derives from “strongoulos pristòs” and it means small gnocchi. The struffoli are spread in all Central-Southern Italy. In Umbria and Abruzzi the “struffolo” is named “cicerchiata” because the fried balls of dough bound with honey are chickling-shaped, whereas in Cilento they usually eat chickpeas fried and sweetened instead of the “struffoli”. Now they are the classic Christmas dessert, they are embellished with “diavolilli” (tiny, variously coloured candied almonds) and they are made at home as well as in the confectioner’s shops. This is a popular dessert which has infinite regional, family and personal interpretations. In the past the “struffoli” were prepared in the convents in Naples, by the nuns of different orders and they were given as a gift to the noble families at Christmas. In the “struffoli” recipe there are candied oranges and citrons but the most used fruit is the candied pumpkin (as in the “pastiera” and in the “sfogliatella”) which is named the “cucuzzata”.

The Neapolitan “struffoli”

Ingredients for 20 people
600 g “00” flour
5 eggs
2 tablespoons of sugar
80 g butter (in the past lard was used: 25 g)
1 liqueur glass of limoncello or rum
the zest of a half a lemon, grated
1 pinch of salt
oil (or lard) to fry
To flavour and decorate:
400 g honey
100 g tiny, variously coloured candied almonds (in Naples they are named “diavulilli”)
70 g candy-coated almonds (the white ones containing cinnamon aroma)
100 g candied orange
100 g candied citrus
50 g candied pumpkin (it can only be found in Naples, its name is “cucuzzata”)

This is the traditional recipe characterized by the absence of yeast and the “struffoli” you will obtain are really very crispy. If you prefer them bigger you can add a pinch of bicarbonate or ammonia for desserts in the dough and let it stand for some hours.

Put the flour on the table, mix it with eggs, butter, sugar, the grated zest of half a lemon, a liqueur glass of rum and a bit of salt. After obtaining a smooth mixture, give it the shape of a ball and let it stand for half an hour. Then knead it again for a short time and give life to balls whose dimensions should be similar to the ones of oranges. Pluck off pieces and roll them out, on a floured surface, under your fingers to form snakes about as thin as your little finger, and cut them into quarter-inch long pieces and put them on a floured piece of cloth without putting one on top of another.

Before frying put them in a sieve and shake them to eliminate the excess flour. Deep fry the pieces a few at a time in boiling oil: take them out when they are big and golden-brown, not particularly brown, and drain them on absorbent paper.

Melt honey in a bain-marie in quite a capacious pot, remove it from the flame and add the fried “struffoli”, delicately mixing until they are well soaked in honey. Pour half the candy-coated almonds and the candied fruit cut in small pieces and mix again. 

Take the dish, put an empty jar at the centre of it (it is useful to make the central hole easier) and put the “struffoli” around it so giving life to a ring-shaped cake. Then, when the honey is still hot, cover the “struffoli” with the remaining candy-coated almonds and candied fruit in order to create a pleasant aesthetic effect.

When the honey solidifies, delicately take the jar away from the centre of the dish and serve the “struffoli”.

The other Christmas desserts

Now we present the classic Christmas desserts which weren’t widespread in the Nineties but they have come back into fashion, also thanks to their characteristics. They are said to bring good luck. The “mostacciuoli”, as the name itself indicates, derives from the processing of the wine sauce and for this reason they were used above all during Christmas holidays.

The “roccocò”, sold together with the “mostacciuoli”, are the desserts with which the Neapolitan families finish their meal during the feast of the Immaculate Conception and so they are usually eaten until the new year. They are particularly hard biscuits so they can be tenderized by soaking them in vermouth, a sparkling or white wine or in Marsala. Its oldest preparation traces back to 1320 when it was prepared by the nuns of the Real Convent of the Maddalena. Its really cheerful name derives from the French term “rocaille” due to its baroque and round shape which is similar to a round shell.

1 kg flour,
1 kg sugar,
350 g toasted and crushed nuts,
2 zests of lemon, grated,
1/2 sachet of cinnamon,
2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa,
200 g plain chocolate,
1 pinch of salt.
Mix the ingredients kneading with lukewarm water. Roll out the dough until it is about 2 centimetres thick and cut it in a diamond shape. Put it in the oven and bake it for about 30 minutes at 150°C. As soon as they get cold cover them with melted chocolate or, according to the original recipe, with a thick syrup made with water, sugar and unsweetened cocoa.

500 g flour
500 g sugar
Half a glass of cold water
250 g almonds
12 cloves
Half a grated nutmeg
zest of orange and lemon, grated,
2 g ammonium carbonate
1 egg yolk
Put all the ingredients on the table. Grind all the spices in a mortar and finally add the grated zest of a lemon and a orange. Mix all the ingredients and add the water slowly. Knead the dough just a little bit (the sugar will make kneading difficult) and finally add the ammonium carbonate finishing to knead the dough. Cover the dough with a tea cloth and let it stand for all the night in a well sheltered and cool place. Then clean the almonds with a cloth and toast them in the oven at a moderate heat for about 15 minutes. Mix the dough with the whole almonds and create many small sticks which are a finger thick and 12 centimetres long. Join the tips of the small sticks forming a diamond shape. Brush the “rococo” with an egg yolk melted in a drop of milk and put them on a baking tray, covered with an oven sheet, leaving 2 centimetres among them and put them in the oven at a maximum of 250°C in order to allow the “roccocò” to become bigger and solid. After 7/8 minutes reduce the heat to 180°C. Altogether bake them for about twenty minutes. As soon as all the “roccocò” are ready, in order to make them last longer, put them in the oven again at 50°C for some hours.