It’s about a little over a week before the big day—Christmas! In my family, as in many others, baking is a big part of the holiday season. Millions of recipes for cookies, cakes, and other desserts can be found online in treasured family recipe boxes, notebooks, or on the backs of bill envelopes. I have many great recipes that were given to me when I did not have paper handy—lol!
Each year, I flip through my mother’s recipe notebook, filled with many family recipes, each bringing back many memories. In my family, certain dishes and desserts were only made for different holidays throughout the year. At this time of the year, the family recipe that screams Christmas is struffoli! These little balls of goodness are prepared with the basics, but the added Sambuca, a licorice liqueur, lemon, and honey make this recipe a winner at the holiday table. Although most struffoli recipes include the Anisette liqueur, my mother told me that the secret to the amazing flavor of our family recipe, which was given to my mother by an aunt on my father’s Sicilian side of the family, is the addition of Sambuca.
When I was eleven, I remember my mother recruiting me to help with the holiday baking. At first, I thought it was a cool thing to do, but as the years went by, I dreaded standing in the kitchen for hours and hours. My job was to do the cutting and rolling the dough into little balls. However, my mother did find a shortcut by only cutting about ½ – ¾ inch pieces of dough before deep-frying. She discovered that the little dough pieces puffed up in a ball without having to roll each one which eliminated rolling the dough pieces into balls—thanks, ma!
Once the dough pieces were cut, the deep-frying was left to my grandmother and eventually taken over by my father. My mother would make several batches to give as gifts to family, friends, and neighbors. For many, these little balls of goodness covered in honey and garnished with colorful non-pariels were treasured as if they were given gold!
As I write this story, memories come flooding back of how my mother would buy dozens of tins with clear plastic covers and dozens of Christmas bows to add to each container of struffoli. My mom would line up the struffoli tins on the dining room buffet until they were ready to be distributed. Oh, how I remember delivering these tins of goodness to our neighbors. I’d also bring back home baked treats from a couple of our neighbors. Such great times back then in 1979/the early 80s.
After my mother passed away and struffoli wasn’t homemade anymore, I decided to continue the tradition of making Christmas struffoli myself. Nowadays, when you say ‘struffoli,’ many look at me, trying to figure out what I’m referring to, so I have to say, “you know, honey balls!’ Then I’ll get a reaction. Too funny. Many people I know to pass on struffoli from their experience of having ones from certain bakeries and supermarkets. I have tasted store-bought struffoli; in my opinion, they are hard to chew and not that flavorful. What makes my family recipe a hit is that the struffoli are flavorful due to the Sambuca and soft enough because of the Crisco shortening that is added to the dough and used for frying. If you like some crunch, leave the struffoli to fry until the struffoli is browned more than a golden brown, as suggested in the recipe.
My daughter, my son-in-law, and my daughter-in-law like struffoli. My daughter started to make them a couple of years ago. She did a great job! My son, however, ‘loves’ struffoli. I always tried to have it made for Christmas. Many years ago, when I was working full-time with no time to make it beforehand, I made struffoli on Christmas morning! Tradition is tradition! I developed a knack for making the dough, rolling the long strips, cutting, adding to the fry basket, and then dumping the cooked struffoli into a big bowl and repeating this process until all the dough was cooked. Easy! Sort of…
After the big Christmas dinner, fruit and nuts are served, espresso, cookies, and of course, the struffoli. In my family, no one could wait for it to be put on the table when American coffee was served with all the other desserts and pastries. I must say, espresso and struffoli are a great combination. Of course, struffoli is great anytime, but the mixed flavors of espresso and struffoli are beyond delicious. You must try it!
So as the week before Christmas approaches, be sure to gather your struffoli-making ingredients. Pick a day or an evening, recruit a few family members and friends, put on some Christmas music, and make struffoli! Don’t forget to have fun making priceless memories.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy 2023! Enjoy!