A mound of struffoli, the traditional shape, from Linda’s Italian Table. It can be cut into slices, or for a party, put on the buffet so everyone can pick off what they like.  A loose wreath style from Il Cuori In Pentola.  A cornucopia shape, called Cornucopia di Sfoglia in Italian. It’s decorated with chocolate foil coins, by Oggi Cucino Cosi.  Frying the dough at My Spice Sage. If you can fry, you can make struffoli.  Croque em bouche, a special occasion treat in France, is often served instead of wedding cake. These smaller versions are decorated for the holidays by François Payard Bakery in New York City.  The recipes in this book include one for struffoli, reprinted below. You can see the recipes for any of these photos by clicking their links.
How about a holiday baking project for family and friends?
If you don’t have your own holiday baking tradition like Christmas cookies, gingerbread people or spritz cookies, how about struffoli?
Struffoli (STROO-fo-lee) are puffy balls of eggy fried dough coated in honey. They are a traditional Christmas sweet in Naples and other parts of central and southern Italy.
The fried dough is stacked into a cone-shape centerpiece or assembled into a wreath design. More ambitious cooks have the puffs spilling out a pastry horn of plenty. We like to present it with after-dinner coffee.
It’s actually quite easy: If you can fry, you can make struffoli.
Struffoli look like a smaller, flat croquembouche. Both have a crunchy outside and soft inside.
Croque Em Bouche is made from profiteroles—cream puffs—that are baked, filled and stacked into the shape of a large cone. The puffs are held together by caramelized (spun) sugar and finished with drizzled caramel. It is served for weddings and other celebrations.
Struffoli is made from deep-fried dough the size of marbles. There is no filling, but the balls are rolled in honey to stick together. They can be shaped into a cone or a wreath.
Stuffoli can be set on a cone base made from nougatine, a mixture of caramelized sugar and sliced almonds.
Croque em bouche is also traditionally served during baptisms and other special occasions. The name means “[it] cracks in the mouth,” which is what the caramelized sugar does!
DECORATING THE STRUFFOLI
While struffoli can be served plain, you can express your creativity with decorations.
The Italian preference is for pastel sprinkle mixes. We suggest red, green and white sugar holiday confetti or sprinkles.
For an old-fashioned approach: candied red and green cherries or other candied fruits.
You may want to avoid Jordan almonds or candied nuts, another traditional decoration, if any guest may be allergic.
Like to roll fondant? Drape a red “ribbon” around the pastry and top with a “bow.” You can use real ribbon if you prefer.
Want elegance? Get gold and silver edible dragées and pearls.
Our favorite: strips of candied orange peel or an assortment of all the citrus peels you can collect. Dipping the peels in chocolate is our own personal touch. Here’s a recipe.
RECIPE: STRUFFOLI (NEAPOLITAN HONEY BALLS)
This recipe, from 1,000 Italian Recipes by Michele Scicolone, can easily be doubled. It is © copyright Michele Scicolone.
If you like the idea but not the labor, call the nearest Italian bakery and order one.
Ingredients For 8 Servings
1 cup all-purpose flour plus more for kneading the dough
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup honey (about 6 ounces)
TIP: Use quality honey instead of the generic supermarket variety for a more elegant flavor.
1. COMBINE the cup of flour and the salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs and lemon zest and stir until well blended.
2. TURN OUT the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes). Add a bit more flour if the dough seems sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with an overturned bowl. Let the dough rest 30 minutes.
3. CUT the dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Roll one slice between your palms into a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch nuggets. If the dough feels sticky, use a teeny bit of flour to dust the board or your hands. (Excess flour will cause the oil to foam up when you fry the struffoli.)
4. LINE a tray with paper towels. Pour about 2 inches of oil into a wide heavy saucepan and heat to 370°F, or until a small bit of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and turns brown in 1 minute.
5. PLACE just enough struffoli in the pan to fit without crowding, taking care not to splash the hot oil. Cook, stirring once or twice with a slotted spoon, until the struffoli are crisp and evenly golden brown (1 to 2 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough. When all of the struffoli are fried…
6. GENTLY HEAT the honey to just a simmer in a large, shallow saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the drained struffoli and toss well. Transfer the struffoli to a serving plate and shape into a mound or wreath. Decorate as desired.
7. TO SERVE: For each person, break off a portion of the struffoli with two large spoons or a salad server. Or, pass the plate so people can take what they like.
You can store struffoli at room temperature, covered with an overturned bowl, for up to 3 days.
The ancestor of struffoli dates back to ancient Greece. A similar dish is described by Archestratus, a Greek poet from Sicily.
Called enkris, the dough balls were fried in olive oil (source).
The name derives from the Greek word strongoulos, meaning “rounded in shape.”
Fast forward to the early 17th century. The nuns of Naples were famous for their sweets, which they sold to the public. Each convent had a specialty. According to tradition, struffoli are considered good luck because the balls are a symbol of abundance.
At Christmas, the nuns made struffoli as gifts for their aristocratic patrons, to thank them for their charity throughout the year. The tradition was copied by home cooks and became a Christmas tradition (source).