Struffoli

Caramelized Wreath of Crisp Fritters

A popular Italian Christmas pastry, struffoli are tiny, crisp fritters bound together with caramel. In some regions it is traditional to prepare the caramel with honey, but I find that the sugar caramel holds up better and is less sweet. The addition of the pine nuts is optional, but they do dress up both the appearance and taste of the struffoli.

Ingredients

    Dough

  • cups all-purpose flour
  • tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • quarts light or pure olive oil or vegetable oil, for frying

    Caramel

  • cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts (optional)
  • Candied fruit for finishing (optional)

Method

For the dough, rub the flour and butter together in a bowl. Beat the eggs and vanilla together and stir into the flour. Mix and allow to stand 1 minute so that the flour absorbs the liquid. Knead lightly by folding the dough over on itself 6 or 8 times, on a generously floured surface, and wrap in plastic. Allow the dough to rest 1 hour at room temperature.

Divide the dough into 6 or 8 pieces and roll each into a rope about ½-inch in diameter. Cut each rope into ½-inch lengths. Arrange the pieces of dough on 2 generously oiled sheets of wax paper and leave them to dry for a few minutes.

Heat the oil to 350 degrees in a large pan. Fry the pieces of dough in 2 batches, tipping the wax paper to allow the pieces of dough to slide into the oil. Stir the fritters while they are frying so that they color evenly; cook until they are a deep golden color, about 3 minutes. Drain the fritters on a pan lined with paper towels. Repeat with the second batch. Place the still-warm fritters in a large buttered bowl.

While the fritters are still warm, prepare the caramel: combine the sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and stir to mix. Place on medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar melts and caramelizes. Do not allow the caramel to become too dark.

Pour the caramel over the fritters in the bowl and quickly add the pine nuts. Stir rapidly to coat the fritters and the pine nuts evenly with the caramel, and turn the mixture out onto a buttered platter.

Quickly and carefully, shape the mass of fritters into a wreath. Wear buttered rubber gloves if you fear burns. Decorate with the candied fruit. Loosen the wreath from the platter before the caramel hardens completely.

To serve the struffoli, break the wreath into rough pieces at the table with the point of a knife. Let guests help themselves, breaking the fritters apart a few at a time. This is finger food for an informal occasion.

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