In my Italian family, food plays a major role in every gathering. That's probably true for many cultures. I think for most people there are certain foods that are prepared on special occasions that become traditions for generations. Those dishes or treats that are a "must have" for your family. Maybe you associate them with a beloved relative, a happy memory or maybe it's just what your Mom always made. When it comes to baking for the holidays at our house, it's all about tradition.
When i was growing up, it was something we had every Christmas. It's a time consuming dessert to make and was a labor of love. My Nana and Poppop would spend an entire afternoon making it. I think it's probably been a good 12-15 years since they last made it. I decided this would be the year i would bring it back. My dad found my Nana's hand-written recipe and gave it to me. I will share it with you.
I sent an SOS out on Twitter to find out what my grandmother meant by a "short cup of sugar". Found out that it's also sometimes referred to as a scant cup, or just a little bit less than a full cup.
The recipe called for blending 2 pounds of flour (7 cups), 8 eggs, 1 short cup of sugar, 1-1/2 tsp of baking powder and 2 1/2 Tbsp of melted butter (i used 3). My first attempt at the dough was a disaster. It was dry, wouldn't combine and i ended up throwing it in the garbage. But, i just could not give up. I said a little prayer and asked my grandparents to help me. I blended the ingredients together again and this time added just a few tablespoons of water. It did the trick. It was still very tough and dry, but i forged ahead anyway.
I kept a wet paper towel on top of the dough to keep it moist while i took hand sized pieces and rolled them onto a lightly floured surface into a thin rope. Then i would cut into small pieces and roll them into my palms until they were about the size and shape of gumballs. Eventually i had a big plate full of them.
Then, the dough balls are carefully put into a frying pan filled with hot oil. I find the best technique is to hold them on the edge of the pan and let them gently roll into their hot tub of oil. (This was an excellent time to review with the kids how to put out a grease fire in the kitchen. Thankfully, we didn't need to show them! Phew!)
After cooling, we mound them up on a large, deep plate. Then we then pour honey all over them. Some honey will be absorbed by the struffoli, but much of it will pool on the plate under them, which is why you need a deep plate.
The result are these delicious fried dough balls that are sweet from the honey, crunchy on the outside and cakey on the inside. You eat them with your fingers or spoon some out into a little bowl. They will keep for a week or two in a dry, cool place (not the fridge). Tent them with toothpicks and some wax paper. I was so happy when they tasted just like the struffoli that my grandparents always made. I've decided that i will make these every year and hopefully this will be a tradition that will be handed down for generations to come!