Sicily carnival recipes, Struffoli or Pignolata
Struffoli, a small dough balls, and I mean really small, the size of marbles, that are deep-fried and then rolled in honey before being assembled into a cone as in the French piled-up profiteroles model or a bulging wreath, is a Christmas sweet, but in Sicily is usually prepare this special sweet in carnival day.
The original recipe
- 2 tablespoons semolina
- 6 eggs
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- zest 1 unwaxed lemon, finely grated
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3–3 1/3 cups flour, plus more for rolling
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 1/2–3 quarts flavorless vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 1/2 cups honey
- approx. 2 teaspoons sprinkles, to decorate
Get out a large, rimmed baking sheet and shake the semolina over the base. And get out another tray (it doesn’t have to be a baking sheet) and line it with a double layer of paper towels. Set both aside while you get on with the dough.
Beat the eggs, sugar, finely grated lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil until frothy. Gradually add about 2 2/3 cups of the flour and the baking powder, and mix to a dough. If it is too sticky, then add more flour and keep kneading, using either your hands or a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook, until you have a smooth, pliable dough. This doesn’t take very long: probably around 3 minutes or 5 by hand.
Flour your work surface and turn out your dough. Then divide the dough into 10 roughly equal pieces, each about the size of a golf ball. Take 1 ball and roll it into a rope approx. 1/2 inch thick, then with floury hands divide this into about 20 small pieces, and roll each piece between your hands (flouring them again if this helps) to make marble-sized balls.
Place the formed balls of dough on the semolina-sprinkled baking sheet, as you shape them. Repeat the process with the remaining golf-ball-sized portions of dough: you should make a staggering 200 of the tiny balls!
Heat the vegetable oil in a wide, heavy pan—about 11 inches diameter and at least 6 inches deep—and then when the oil is at 375°F but no higher (you can leave a preserving or candy thermometer in, if you want), or a piece of bread sizzles and browns immediately when dropped in the pan, you can begin to cook the dough balls. Regulate the temperature and keep a careful eye on the pan and the oil all the time.
Gently lower, using a mesh scoop or perforated spoon, about 15 little dough balls at a time. At first they will sink and then, as they cook, they’ll float to the surface and begin to turn golden brown. This will take up to about 1 minute depending on how many you have in at a time, but be ready to fish them out with your mesh scoop or perforated spoon onto the paper towel–lined tray as soon as they become the right golden color. And keep watching your pan.
Continue to cook them in batches—making sure the oil returns to the correct temperature but doesn’t get too hot or bubble too vigorously—until they are all fried; you can pile them up on the tray without harm. Now turn off the heat under the oil pan, and move on to the adhesive and assembly stage.
Pour the honey into a roasting pan that can go on the stove, and heat very gently until it becomes runny—a matter of moments, so do not leave the pan—then take it off the heat.
Tip all of the fried dough balls into the warmed honey and, using a soft spatula, turn them gently to coat them. Get out a large plate or cake stand with a slight lip or rim and, with wet hands, check the balls are not too hot then pick up the sticky balls and arrange them around the outer edge of the plate in the shape of a bobbly wreath, leaving just a small empty circle in the middle. Do not worry about symmetry or perfection or counting dough balls here, please.
Wash the honey from your hands and shake your chosen sprinkles over the sticky wreath, then stand back and admire, before placing your creation where others can do likewise. These struffoli are best, to my mind, eaten on the day they’re made. Use a scoop or spoon and fork to serve. It will be a sticky affair, but that’s part of their charm.