Saturday, December 15, 2012
Christmas struffoli recipe
There is a downside to loving your family.
I can prove it.
(Note to those seeking quick access to this week's recipe: Scroll down to the next photo, as a rather tense family drama is about to unfold.)
See, I recently promised a loyal reader named Melissa that I would make struffoli for the holidays. Basically crisp fried dough balls cooked in honey, struffoli is a Neopolitan specialty around Christmas, and so Melissa's request was not at all unexpected. What she didn't know, however, is that I had never made struffoli before in my life, and so I did the only thing that seemed reasonable.
"Hey Anna," I barked into the phone, "I want to make struffoli."
"Good," my aunt said. "Josephine's coming this weekend. Come and help if you want."
Anna sometimes forgets her geography.
"Aunt, I'm 300 miles away. All I want's your recipe."
"Are you coming for the Eve?"
This wasn't a question. I spend every Christmas Eve at my aunt's dinner table. Where else would I be?
"Yeah, sure, I'll be there," I said. "Can I have the recipe now?"
It only took a minute to jot down Anna's instructions. Then the trouble started.
"Does Aunt Laura use this recipe too?" I asked innocently enough.
"No, she uses milk in hers," Anna said, brusquely, I thought. "Why, you want her recipe? Her struffoli are no good."
"I was just asking. Why, what's wrong with Laura's struffoli?"
"I just told you, she uses milk. You're not supposed to use milk."
"So, what, it ruins the texture? The taste? What exactly?"
"How should I know? I never had your aunt's struffoli."
I should mention that Anna and Laura are in no way estranged. In fact, they're really quite close as sisters-in-law go. They live about a quarter mile apart and see each other regularly.
"You've known each other for 70 years and you never had her struffoli? How is that even possible?"
"What do you want from me?"
"And if you never tried Laura's, how do you know they're not good?"
"There's eggplant in the oven," Anna told me. "I have to go."
(Note to those of you who are still with me: There is ample time to scroll down to the photos and recipe, you know. I'll understand.)
A not-so-attractive trait that I possess is tenacity. And so, yes, Laura's was a struffoli recipe that I now had to have. Due to a bad bit of luck on the health front, speaking to my aunt by phone wasn't possible, and so I texted my swell cousin Susie, her daughter-in-law, who was still living in Laura's apartment due to being displaced by Hurricane Sandy back in October: "Ask Laura for her struffoli recipe and email it to me when you get a chance. Also ask her if she's ever had Anna's struffoli. If she has, ask her if she liked them."
A few days later Susie sent me the recipe but nothing else.
"Didn't you ask her about Anna?" I responded.
"Yes, I did. Not sure if you can use it, though."
"Because she didn't actually say anything," Susie wrote. "All she did was make a face!"
If you are unfamiliar with the language shared by many families such as mine, allow me to translate. Laura's making a face could only mean one thing: she doesn't like Anna's struffoli any more than Anna likes hers. Whether she's ever tried them or not.
Which brings us to why loving your family as much as I do can be a real problem. By asking both Anna and Laura for their recipes I now had to decide which one of them to actually use. Which meant insulting one of the very dearest women I have ever known.
After two whole days of torturing myself over this decision, and a disastrous attempt at creating an original recipe that made use of chickpea flour (don't ask!), I readied to inform Melissa that I would not be making struffoli this Christmas after all.
Then the perfect solution arose.
"Hey Fred," I texted. "I need you-know-who's struffoli recipe. And pronto."
My friend Fred, I should mention, shares a home with an expert struffoli maker. Each year this person hosts something called "Struffoli Saturday," a work event where multiple friends and loved ones get down to the task of producing a hell of a lot of struffoli for their holidays. This individual's recipe, it turns out, is as closely guarded as her identity. But something very close, Fred assured me, was published in a magazine some time ago. That is the recipe my friend connected me with in order to avoid insulting one of my dear aunts. And that, with only a couple of minor alterations, is the recipe that I have used here.
This recipe (reprinted in full below) calls for a fairly wet dough. First mix the ingredients in a bowl and then roll the dough out onto a floured surface and kneed for a bit.
Once the dough is workable cut it into six pieces and then roll out each piece like so.
Cut into half-inch pieces and lightly roll each one into a ball before deep frying.
It doesn't take very long to fry struffoli. Depending on the temperature of the oil it can take anywhere from one to three minutes. Just keep an eye on them. These are about as light in color as you'll want; they can stay in the oil longer and get a bit darker if you prefer.
Removing the struffoli to paper towels gets rid of at least some of the oil. At this stage you can either finish the whole job, part of the job, or just store the struffoli until you're ready to make them. I prepared the whole batch and so this works out according to the full recipe's instructions.
Well, sort of. For starters, I used at least twice the amount of candied fruit as called for. (This gets diced up finely, by the way, but the fruit are so pretty I wanted to show them in the pre-cut stage.)
In a pan under low- to medium heat warm honey and the zest of one orange.
Then add the struffoli and mix thoroughly. I also added some of the candied fruit at this stage, but the recipe doesn't call for that.
Plate the struffoli, sprinkle candied fruit (or colored sprinkles if you prefer), and you're done.
Now, go and call a relative that you love a lot and wish them a Happy Holiday.
Just don't ask them for any of their recipes. Especially if you do not intend on using them.
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine
1 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel (I used orange peel)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
vegetable oil for deep-frying (I used canola oil)
3/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/4 cup finely chopped candied fruit (I used more than twice that amount)
Whisk flour and salt in large bowl. Add butter; rub in until fine meal forms.
Whisk eggs, yolk, and next 3 ingredients in medium bowl. Stir into flour mixture. Let dough stand 1 minute.
Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead until pliable (dough will be sticky), about 1 minute. Divide dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece out to 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut ropes into 1/2-inch lengths.
Add oil to depth of 3 inches in large pot. Heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees F.
Working in batches, fry dough until brown, 3 minutes per batch. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels.
Stir honey and orange peel in large saucepan over medium heat until warm. Add fritters and toss (I also added some of the candied fruit at this stage). Transfer fritters to platter, shape into wreath. Sprinkle with candied fruit. Cool completely.