The Neapolitan Struffoli, history and recipe of the Christmas cake with Greek origins

by Federico Quagliuolo

The struffoli are one religion of christmas table. 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 and we see it in one of the main ingredients: the honey, which was considered a divine nectar and it was the sweetener of all the sweets of antiquity. Moreover it is a perfect natural product to guarantee one long shelf life of the products.

It's about a recipe that presents variants throughout southern Italy both in the preparation and in the decorations: there are also those who add orange, cedar, candied pumpkin or other elements of side dish and those who prefer them enriched only by colored diavulilli. We will tell the history of the Neapolitan recipe.

Struffoli
Struffoli after frying, photo by Federico Quagliuolo

The Greek struffoli

The story was born in ancient times, precisely when, nearly three millennia ago, the first Greek colonists they set foot on the virgin territories of Monte Echia e Colle Monterone. It is not possible to trace the precise origin of the recipe with certainty, but with a good dose of certainty we can say that the term "struffolo" derives from "στρόγγυλος" (you write it stroggulos, it is read strongulos), which in Greek means "round“.

In the Greek world it remained a similar recipe: i λουκουμάδες (loukoumades), also known in Turkey like Lokma or Luqma in the world Arabic.

Gli Struffoli napoletani, storia e ricetta del dolce di Natale dalle origini greche
The cutting of struffoli, photo by Federico Quagliuolo

The struffolo of the Two Sicilies

If there are sweets like the sfogliatella and the Baba that I am the trademark of Naples, the same cannot be said for struffoli. In fact, similar recipes are also found in other parts of Italy, especially in the territories offormer Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
From the spread of struffoli throughout central-southern Italy we can also note a curiosity: struffoli are not born as Christmas sweets. Even in the first codifications of the recipe, dating back to the seventeenth century, there is no mention of Christmas.

TO Palermo in fact the recipe is almost identical, except for one detail: they are called "strufoli“, With only one F. The recipe then evolves into Sicilian fussy, which is typically a dessert Easter and it is practically identical to the struffoli, except that the balls are made of decidedly more generous dimensions.

If we go to the upper border of the Kingdom, in the Abruzzi, there is Cicerchiata: Also here.

Let's try to cross the boundaries of Garigliano and we go to the State of the Church: a Viterbo, in ancient Tuscia, the "strufoli" are our damselfish. They have very little to do with our struffolie, paradoxically, they are much more like loukoumades greeks.

Struffoli miele
The struffoli while being dipped in honey. Picture of Federico Quagliuolo

A rigorous preparation for Neapolitan struffoli

Each ball must be small, round and cut with a precise technique with the knife, in order to get wet well: more small struffoli in fact increase the quantity of honey. Be careful not to overdo the "nectar of the Gods": too much honey covers all flavors and is often used as a make-up for hide a bad fry.

Ingredients for the dough:

500g of flour
3 whole eggs
100g of sugar
70g of butter
grated lemon peel
Seed oil for frying

Finishing ingredients:

250gr Honey from Campania
100g sugar
diavulilli (the colored sugar balls)
To taste: orange peel, cedar

impasto struffoli
The rolls of dough ready to be cut

Process for the realization of the Neapolitan struffoli

  1. The dough is prepared with salt, eggs, sugar and softened butter, to be worked with flour. You have to work with your hands or with the help of a whisk until it becomes soft and elastic. Then you can leave everything in the fridge for 1 hour.
  2. Once the dough is obtained, you need to create many small strips of dough by stretching them with your hands. It is important that they are very small, as they will not grow during frying, if not a little.
  3. The strips must be cut with a sharp knife not positioned "guillotine", from above. It has to be done scroll diagonally, to ensure a uniform and well-dosed cut.
  4. Prepare the oil at 180 ° and gently fry the struffoli in oil: being small, they will be golden in no time, about a minute or even less. Take them off right away or they'll burn.
  5. The freshly fried struffoli should be left to dry between two sheets of absorbent paper.
  6. We heat the honey in a saucepan until it becomes liquid. We pour the freshly cooked struffoli and turn them in honey, making sure that all the balls get wet evenly and not excessively. We also add the diavulilli.
  7. We serve in a tray or in a container and leave the struffoli to cool.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Story dedicated to Lorenza Gianfrancesco for her generous donation. Support Naples Stories too, we will thank you with a story!

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