Neapolitan Christmas sweets: roccocò, mustaccioli, struffoli, susamielli and raffiuoli

by Federico Quagliuolo

There is no dinner in Campania without a table full of Neapolitan Christmas sweets: from the inevitable and apt struffoli to the Roccoco toothbreaker, without forgetting the mustacciolo, soft or hard, with his chocolate that closes the meal with sweetness.

Recently, especially in the Northern Italy intrigued towards the Neapolitan traditions, the custom of cooking there has also spread pastiera at Christmas. It is actually about an Easter cake.

Matters of monastery in Christmas sweets

Sweets, if they don't come from foreign influences like the staples or the Baba, most of the time they have stories related to convents and monasteries where, between a father of ours and a reading in the library, the nuns and monks were very expert in creating superfine kitchen products. There "Santa Rosa" sfogliatella is an example. Likewise the main ingredient of almost all Christmas sweets, the honey, is a strongly element symbolic: since the times of the ancient Romans it was in fact considered the food of the gods.

The peculiarity of Neapolitan Christmas sweets is their ability to resist for many days thanks to glazes or cooking: the Roccoco he is champion, but also i raffioli they are very resistant. It is different for the struffoli, which are very delicate.

I dolci di Natale napoletani: roccocò, mustaccioli, struffoli, susamielli e raffiuoli

The Roccocò

Perhaps, it has nothing to do with the homophone artistic current. There are two interpretations on the origin of the name: the first binds it to the Rococò, since the word "rocaille" indicates a particular decoration made with rocks or shells. The consistency of the cake and the rounded shape would recall one of the decorations of the Rococo style furniture.
The second interpretation derives this word from "roche”(Rock in French) and it is easy to understand the reason: it is hard, very hard, a challenge for the teeth. Although, in reality, the perfect recipe requires that the roccocò are hard on the outside, but soft inside. Probably this second interpretation is more likely, as they were created during the Angevin domination in the convent of the Maddalena.

Usually he "kills himself" with wine at the end of the meal, a bit like it happens for distant Tuscan relatives: cantucci with vin santo.
It is a dry biscuit, in the shape of a donut, and is prepared with almonds, sugar, orange peel.

I dolci di Natale napoletani: roccocò, mustaccioli, struffoli, susamielli e raffiuoli
Traditional Mustaccioli

The mustacciolo

The first thing he catches, besides theirs chocolaty appearance, is the particular shape rhomboid and the fact that, if other desserts with their more or less strong flavors may not please some people, mustacciolo is the most loved among the Neapolitan Christmas sweets. Some say it is called that because their rhomboid size recalls the "drooping" shape of the mustache under the nose, the "mustaches". Actually the name derives from the grape must, which was the basis of these treats.

They were originally white: instead of the chocolate coating, used after the mid-19th century, there was a simple one sugar glaze. They were already present in the 16th century: the first time they are officially mentioned is in book by Bartolomeo Scappi, the Pope's cook, who is also the same person who makes us discover the sfogliatelle.

They even have one particularity: their recipe is the most arbitrary and variable there is. The pasta is made with honey, flour, water, yeast and spices, but confectioners often go fancy, passing from chopped pistachios as a cover to jams. The internal biscuit is sometimes a kind of roccocò, very hard, other times it is made of soft sponge cake, more similar to sour cherry biscuit.

The closest relative of the mustacciolo is the Copper of Naples in Catania.

raffioli vassoio
A tray of raffioli

The raffioli

They are children of the "Salty ravioli" emiliani: it is a sponge cake-based dessert covered with marmalade apricots on a sugar glaze base. There is also a version Sicilian-Neapolitan, with the stuffed with cassata.

I dolci di Natale napoletani: roccocò, mustaccioli, struffoli, susamielli e raffiuoli

The Susamiellis

The name derives from its very particular S shape, or from sesame, which is used to cover the cake. They were born in convent of the Poor Clares and it was made in several different recipes: some are enriched with marmalade, others with almonds, still others are "naked“, Only with shortcrust pastry and sesame: it is a dry biscuit, from sweet and poor taste. Here too the bases they are always the same: flour and honey. In this case, chopped walnuts and ammonia must be added.

Being very large and heavy, to say that a person is "a susamiello”Is equivalent to labeling it as heavy and boring.

I dolci di Natale napoletani: roccocò, mustaccioli, struffoli, susamielli e raffiuoli

The struffoli

The struffoli are one table religion. Very sweet, delicate and tasty: they alternate the softness of the shortcrust pastry with the surprise of sugars, with the nightmare of very hard silver balls. This is a sweet dai probably Greek origins: are fried dough balls of tiny size because they guarantee one greater surface wetted by honey with every bite. It is a recipe that has variations throughout Italy both in the preparation and in the additions: often there is orange, cedar, candied pumpkin or other side objects.

For the recipe: Here

-Federico Quagliuolo


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