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 a wonderful Christmas dessert! 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.
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.
Many 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.
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 new year! Enjoy!
3 cups Presto cake flour*
3 large eggs
1 heaping TBSP. Crisco shortening (solid shortening in the can)
1 large can of Crisco for deep frying
1 cup sugar
1 shot glass Sambuca or Anisette liqueur
1/3 cup bottled Real Lemon brand lemon juice
24 oz. jar Blossom brand honey
1 small container of nonpareils candies
Making the Dough On a baking board or a large cookie sheet, mound 3 cups of the Presto cake flour. Mix 3 large beaten eggs, 1 cup of sugar, and one shot of liqueur in a separate bowl. Set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of Crisco solid shortening to flour and mix into it to distribute the Crisco as much as possible. Make a well in the mounded flour and pour a little of the the egg mixture in—little by little as you combine the egg with the flour. Once you add the egg mixture into the flour, knead it into a dough ball. Add extra flour if too sticky. Set aside. Take small amounts of dough and form rounded snake-like strips of dough (like you did as a child playing with Play-Doh.) Cut each dough strip into small ½ – ¾ inch pieces. *For best results, only use Presto cake flour and the listed ingredient brands. The recipe will come out differently if you make your own cake flour or use other cake flour or other ingredient brands than the ones listed.
Frying the dough Deep-fryer temp: 400 degrees When ready to fry the dough pieces, add about a handful of cut dough pieces into the fry basket. Be sure to separate dough pieces, so they are in a single layer in the fry basket and not on top of each other. Dee fry until the dough is a light golden brown. If you prefer to have struffoli a little crunchy, deep fry until the dough is a dark golden brown. When dough pieces are fried to your liking, pour the cooked dough into a large heat-resistant bowl or stockpot to cool. Repeat these deep-frying steps until all the dough is cooked.
Honey Mixture Pour a large bottle of honey and a 1/3 cup of lemon juice, or to taste, (not fresh lemon juice) into a saucepan and heat on a low flame. Stir the honey and lemon mixture until heated and the mixture has thinned for easy pouring. When the mixture has thinned, pour over the struffoli balls. Mix well. Sprinkle how much or how little of the nonpareils candy you prefer. Mix well again. Garnish the top with a sprinkle of nonpareils candy.
This recipe makes 1 struffoli dough that makes 2 eight inch pie pans.
Note: If you are making struffoli by yourself, you may want to roll and cut your dough ahead to focus on deep frying. If this is so, then after the dough is cut and ready to be fried, set the deep fryer at 400 degrees and add the entire can (less the tablespoon used to mix into the dough) of Crisco shortening to the deep fryer. Cover the cut dough with saran wrap, so it does not dry out.
If you have the help of others when making the struffoli, then the deep fryer and Crisco can be heated while you prepare the dough, and the cutting and frying can be done simultaneously.