Struffoli Recipe

PhotoRecipe: Struffoli (Traditional Neapolitan Christmas)

The single most important Christmas tradition of Neapolitan cooking is struffoli (pronounced “Strooffolee”), a dessert made of deep fried dough covered in honey and flavored with lemon and orange. While the origins of the dish are clearly mediterranean (compare it with seadas in Sardinia, purcidduzzi or cicerchiata in Puglia and Calabria, Churros in Spain, baklava in Greece and even croque en bouche in France) Struffoli, with their crunchy texture and zesty sticky outside are fairly easy to make compared to other Neapolitan desserts such as Pastiera (for Easter) Mustaccioli (for Epiphany) and Ministeriali (for all the rest of the year). The recipe below belongs to my grandmother’s family. My grandma, Maria, or as many of you know her the Patron Saint of Marinara Sauce, belonged to a very well respected Neapolitan family and grew up in a household with cooks and maids. She was an exceptional cook and when she married my grandfather she meticulously followed her family traditions and thought them to my mother.  In the Palumbo household around Christmas you would have the dynamic duo (my mom and my nonna) making plate after plate of struffoli to give as a present to friends and loved ones. Naturally, when I grew up I started helping and of course sampling the fried dough, because you know me I am all about quality control! Since I moved to New York, I have made Struffoli every single year, no matter how busy I was or how small the kitchen was. To me there is no Christmas without these lovely balls of fried dough coated in honey. Fortunately the Pirate loves them too!Struffoli


For the Dough

  • 500 gr. AP Flour (plus more for rolling out the dough);
  • 25 gr. granulated sugar;
  • 2 tbsp of vanilla extract;
  • 6 eggs;
  • 1 tsp of salt;
  • 50 gr. of unsalted butter (at room temperature);
  • zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange (or 2 tangerines);
  • Canola oil for frying

For the Honey Caramel:

  • 2 cups of honey;
  • 2 tbsp. of sugar;
  • zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange (or 2 tangerines);
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice;
  • sprinkles;
  • Candied cherry, citrus or orange zest (optional).


For the Dough:

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the  ingredients look like wet sand, then add the eggs and mix until the dough comes together.  Place the dough in a dish coated with flour and let it rest for about 30 min.

Cut the dough in 4 pieces and sprinkle your counter and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the first piece of dough until it is 1/8 inch thick. With a cookie cutter (or a sharp knife) cut the dough vertically in half inch stripes, then cut the stripes horizontally into a grid containing 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch squares. Separate the squares so they don’t stick together.

In the meantime, set the canola oil in a pot and bring the temperature to about 375F. Fry the first batch of struffoli until golden brown. You will notice that as they fry the struffoli change shape and puff up almost to a round shape. Remove them from the pot and place them in a colander lined with paper towels.

Cut the dough and fry it as described above until you finish the dough.  Dispose of the oil and clean the pot.

For the Caramel:

Place the homey, sugar, lemon juice and lemon and orange zest for the caramel in the clean pot over medium heat.  Cook the honey mixture until it starts to bubble and all the sugar is dissolved. Tip the fried struffoli in the pot and turn them with a silicone spatula so that they are completely coated with the honey caramel mixture. Turn off the heat and, using a slotted spoon place the struffoli in a serving plate. Traditionally the struffoli are shaped like a garland (see the picture above) and they are garnished with sugar sprinkles, candied cherries, slices of caramelized citrus fruit or orange zest.