Once upon a time, Christmas Eve was the most magical night of the year. I spent all day looking forward to going to my grandparents’ house to enjoy the Feast of the Seven Fishes, opening presents, and of course, Nana’s Christmas Struffoli.
What is Struffoli, You Ask?
Well, you ask only if you never had an Italian grandma. Struffoli is basically dough deep fried to a golden brown and drizzled with honey and nonpareils. My nana used to make this sweet treat for Christmas Eve and no Christmas Eve was complete until I was sticky with honey dripping off my fingers. Nana would stack the struffoli in a tower and add more honey—it would inevitably pool at the bottom of the plate along with rogue red and green nonpareils. I would dip my struffoli in the honey to coat it even more. My God it was delicious. I can taste it now.
When Nana passed away in 2002, it had been several years since she had actually made struffoli. When Hubby and I took over the Christmas Eve traditional meal, I wanted to make it as close to the Christmas Eve meals of my childhood. It’s the only day of the year where we can co-exist in the kitche together. We made made many of the dishes that my grandma and Nana used to make, but year after year, it seemed like something was missing. The struffoli.
I Needed to Fix That
So I asked my mother if she had Nana’s recipe and she looked at me like a deer in headlights. Nana was not good at actually writing down any recipes—that seems to be a theme among Italian grandmas. (They also don’t seem to measure anything, opting for a dash or this and a pinch of that…) I was still determined to find a recipe that was comparable to Nana’s recipe. After several tries (and fails) I finally found two years ago. It was as close to Nana’s struffoli as I was going to get—my honey balls were bigger than she ever made them, but they still had the same delicious flavor and crunch. And of course, the honey. Yum…
I’ve scaled back this recipe because the first time I tried it it took me seven hours. Now that I’ve halved it and got a deep fryer it takes just about an hour and a half.
2 1/4 cups flour
3 Tbs butter
1/8 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup honey
1 container of nonpareil
Mix the butter and flour together with your hands in a bowl until butter is in small bits. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt, stirring to incorporate. Add eggs and vanilla, and stir until a dough forms. Knead a few times, then leave in bowl to rest for 1/2 hour in fridge.
Roll out dough in ropes—cut into 1/4 inch pieces and roll the pieces into balls. Fry up in small batches (they will expand as they cook). Heat up honey in a saucepan and then toss cooked balls in the honey. Stack into a pyramid shape, add remaining honey to the top, and sprinkle with nonpareils. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!