Over the holidays, my girlfriend's daughter Amelia had a school project in which she was assigned to make a traditional dish. The students picked a country randomly from a hat and then had to research a Christmas dish to prepare from that country. Amelia drew Italy and ultimately researched her way onto a dish called Struffoli, which is a Neapolitan dish made of honey glazed toasted hazelnuts and fried dough balls. It is assembled like a pyramid or tower and served during Christmas. She likes watching Giada De Laurentiis on The Food Network, so we used her recipe.
Fortunately for Amelia, her mom and I are both chefs, so her unwitting choice of a rather difficult dish was met with eagerness on our part. We had never made this before, so we were in for some fun!
The goal is to get the dough balls and hazelnuts to look exactly alike. When you build the tower, you randomly place the dough balls and hazelnuts so when you take a bite you are never sure if you are getting a hazelnut or a fried dough ball.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large lemon, zested (about 2 teaspoons)
1/2 large orange zested (about 2 teaspoons)
3 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 stick butter cut into 1/2” pieces, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon white wine
1 teaspoon vanilla
Canola oil for frying
1 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups whole toasted hazelnuts
Colored sugar sprinkles for decorating
Powdered sugar for dusting
1. For the dough: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 2 cups of flour, lemon zest, orange zest, sugar, salt, and baking powder. 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. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Cut the dough into 4 equal-sized pieces. 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. Cut each strip of pastry into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a small ball about the size of a hazelnut. Lightly dredge the dough balls in flour, shaking off any excess.
3. 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 375 degrees F. (If you don't have a thermometer, drop a cube of bread in the pan and it should brown in about 3 minutes.). In batches, fry the dough until lightly golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. (The rested and quartered dough can also be rolled on a floured work surface into 1/2-inch thick logs and cut into equal-sized 1/2-inch pieces. The dough pieces can then be rolled into small balls and fried as above).
4. 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, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the fried dough and hazelnuts and stir until coated in the honey mixture. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan for 2 minutes.
5. Spray the outside of a small, straight-sided water glass with vegetable oil cooking spray and place in the center of a round platter. Using a large spoon or damp hands, arrange the struffoli and hazelnuts around the glass to form a wreath shape. Drizzle any remaining honey mixture over the struffoli. Allow to set for 2 hours (can be made 1 day in advance). Decorate with sprinkles and dust with powdered sugar, if using. Remove the glass from the center of the platter and serve.
You don’t have to wait for next Christmas to try this dish! With the crazy snow we have gotten and this week's polar vortex, winter is making itself known. I can’t think of a better reason to hunker down at home and have some fun making this delicious Italian treat with your kids!
If you would like to brush up on some of your pastry skills, come and take one of The Chopping Block's many baking classes like Donut Boot Camp. Our March calendar was just released this morning so be sure to check that out too!