Although ‘Struffoli’, the delicious Italian dessert, were not invented in Naples, being the result of the contamination of ancient gastronomic cultures, over the centuries they have acquired such a charm to become ambassadors of the Neapolitan taste both in Italy and in the rest of the world, together with equally famous delights such as ‘Babà’ and ‘Pastiera’. So let’s find out all the secrets of this specialty, with the precious help of one of the most traditional pastry shops in the city.
What are Struffoli?
Struffoli (singular: ‘Struffolo’), are the Neapolitan variant of a sweet specialty widespread, with different names and specific characteristics, in a great part of the Mediterranean countries: from Spain to Greece, up to Turkey. Something very similar can be found in many regions of Southern Italy. In the ‘City of the Sun’, Struffoli are the dessert usually served at the end of the lunches and dinners that dot the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The history of Neapolitan Struffoli.
The origins of Struffoli have long been a matter of debate among scholars: however, it’s almost certain that they are not from Neaples, being rather linked to the historical contacts of the city with the countries bordering the Mediterranean basin and with the Arab world. (*1).
Many attribute the paternity of the dessert to the Greeks of the classical era: in support of this hypothesis, it’s important to remember that ‘Neapolis’ (*2) was one of the major centers of Magna Graecia (*3) and that, still today, this people count among its most traditional specialties something very similar: the ‘Loukoumades’.
Another theory suggests that Struffoli could be an evolution of the ‘Globulos’, spherical fritters cooked in lard and sprinkled with honey, very popular in ancient Rome (*4).
Lastly, some experts argue that the ancestor of this dessert was introduced in Naples by the Spaniards during their dominion over the city, starting from the sixteenth century. In this regard, it should be noted that, nowadays, in Andalusia (*5), it’s possible to savor something very similar: the ‘Piñonate’.
Regardless of the genesis, it’s almost certain that starting from the Middle Ages, it was the nuns of the many Neapolitan convents who preserved (and sometimes evolved) the tradition of Struffoli in the city (*6): on the occasion of festivities, they used to donate them to noble families so as to enter into their graces.
These days, Struffoli are one of those delicacies that must not be missed from the table of every true Neapolitan during the Christmas holidays: eating them on New Year’s Eve is not just a pleasure but also a good omen gesture.
*2: ‘Neapolis’: ancient name of the city of Naples. Its English translation is ‘New City’ (from the greek Nea-Polis);
*3: ‘Magna Grecia’ was the area of the Italian peninsula colonized by the Greeks starting from the eighth century BC;
*4: An interesting hypothesis. However, considering the close link between the Hellenic and Roman civilizations, it would be more appropriate to link it to the former;
*5: The ‘Piñonate’ made in the zone of Extremadura (Andalusia) is very similar to Struffoli. The main difference is the shape of the little pieces, which is oblong rather than spherical;
*6: This is not surprising: a great part of the Neapolitan confectionery tradition (and not only), is in some way linked to the monastic institutions of the city (a good example is the famous ‘Pastiera’);
Neapolitan Struffoli: ingredients and preparation (hints).
Although many Neapolitan families pass down from generation to generation their own ‘secret recipe’ for Struffoli, in this article we prefer to illustrate the most classic method of preparation, with the precious help of the pastry shop that, nowadays, can be considered the custodian of the tradition of this specialty (*1): Scaturchio.
- Sugar (200 gr.);
- Flour type “00” (1kg);
- Margarine (150 gr.);
- Whole eggs (6);
- Egg yolks (6);
- Alcohol (50 gr.);
- Salt (6 gr.);
- Honey (1,2kg: it’s quality is VERY IMPORTANT)
- Water (150 ml)
- Sugar (600 gr.)
- Candied fruit cut into small pieces (300 gr.)
- Confetti ‘diavolilli’
- Make a uniform and compact dough with the ingredients listed above;
- Detach the pieces from the dough and manually prepare a series of finger-thick strips;
- Cut the strips into small pieces;
- Fry the pieces until they get a nice golden color;
- Mix the Struffoli with the garnish and add only a part of the candied fruit and the ‘diavolilli’;
- Place the Struffoli on a plate and decorate them with the candied fruit and the remaining ‘diavolilli’;
*1: Since it’s the oldest pastry shop specialized in its preparation and still in business.
The ‘cousins’ of Neapolitan Struffoli.
As already mentioned in this article, Struffoli are the Neapolitan ‘variant’ of a dessert belonging, in similar forms, to the gastronomic traditions of many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. It’s therefore not surprising that in Italy itself (especially in the south), similar preparations can be found, whose origins are rooted in the same past.
- The ‘Strufoli’ (with one ‘f’) from Palermo;
- The ‘Cicerchiata’, widespread in the regions of Molise, Abruzzo, Marche and in part of Lazio. Similar to Struffoli, it’s made of smaller pieces;
- The ‘Cicerata’ or ‘Cicirata’, from the region of Basilicata. Its name comes from the fact that the balls are so small that they look like chickpea (In Italian: ‘Ceci’);
- The ‘Pignolata’ with honey, widespread in the regions of Calabria and part of Sicily. Its name comes from the ‘pine cone’ disposition of the small pieces of which it is composed;
- The ‘Sannacchiudere’, widespread in the province of Taranto. Its name comes from the legend in which a mother, to prevent her children from eating the dessert too soon, had to lock them in the pantry (the English translation of ‘Sannacchiudere’ is ‘must be locked’);
- The ‘Purceddhruzzi’, widespread in the province of Lecce. Their name comes from the fact that they vaguely resemble small pigs (the English translation of ‘Purceddu’ is ‘pig’);
- The ‘Giggeri’, a specialty from Carloforte, a town located in the Province of Carbonia-Iglesias, in southern Sardinia;
‘Struffoli’: the origins of the name.
As already mentioned in another paragraph of this article, there is no evidence regarding the origins of Struffoli: by the way, the etymology of their name would seem to indicate that, most likely, they are Hellenic. The word ‘Struffolo’ could derive from the Greek ‘στρόγγυλος’ (‘stróngylos’), which English translation is ‘round’ or ‘rounded’, with a clear reference to the shape of the small balls, the ‘Struffoli’, constituting the dessert.
The ‘Loukoumades’ (also known as ‘Lokma’, whose translation from the Arabic language is ‘bite’), are a specialty available, with small differences, in some countries of the Middle East, in Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. Some experts speculate that ‘Struffoli’ could be an evolution of one of its variants, much appreciated still today in the Hellenic peninsula: not surprisingly, this consists of balls of sweet dough, fried and covered with a thick layer of honey syrup. Characteristics it has in common with the Neapolitan dessert (*1).
Are Struffoli a Christmas dessert?
Some scholars are not so sure that, in Naples, ‘Struffoli’ have always been a Christmas dessert: as proof of this, they usually quote a book dating back to 1634, entitled ‘Lucerna de corteggiani’, written by Giovanni Battista Crisci, in which the specialty is mentioned (along with many others), but not concerning this particular anniversary.
Naples, the city of Struffoli.
Naples, the capital of the Italian region of Campania, can boast very ancient origins: these are generally traced back to the eighth century BC, when it was known by the Greek name of ‘Neapolis’ (‘New City’).
THE MOST TRADITIONAL PASTRY SHOPS
This article was made in collaboration with:
Scaturchio, founded in Naples in 1905, is the custodian of the tradition of Struffoli, since it’s the oldest pastry shop specialized in the preparation of this spacialty and still in business.
The preparation of Neapolitan Struffoli in video.
Here follows an interesting video showing how to make Struffoli:
(Some ingredients and quantities may differ fom those shown in another paragraph of this article)
‘Diavulilli’ to decorate Struffoli.
One of the elements that most characterize the appearance of Struffoli is the use of ‘Diavolini’ (in Neapolitan ‘Diavulilli’) as decoration. They are small confetti, mostly made of sugar: with their bright colors, they further improve the aspect of an already very particular specialty, making it the holiday’s dessert par excellence.
The size of Neapolitan Struffoli.
Some may wonder why the small balls that constitute Struffoli are so small in size. It’s quickly explained: these dimensions, by considerably increasing the surface, allow the dessert to be seasoned with a greater amount of honey, all to the benefit of its taste. It should be also emphasized that this abundance has a strong religious connotation.
ONLY THE MOST TYPICAL AND TRADITIONAL FOOD & WINE
Music for Neapolitan Struffoli.
The reading of an article dedicated to a specialty such as Struffoli has to be accompanied by a selection of famous Neapolitan melodies:
Note: join Spotify and listen to the full songs.
Neapolitan Struffoli: calories and nutritional values.
It’s quite difficult to indicate precisely the number of calories in a portion of Neapolitan Struffoli: this obviously depends on the quantity of honey and ‘diavulilli’ used. We can say that, on average, 100 grams of this specialty contain between 400 and 500 kilocalories.
As for the nutritional values, here follow the (approximate) percentages:
- Carbohydrates (70% approx.)
- Proteins (15% approx.)
- Fat (15% approx.)
The right wine for Neapolitan Struffoli.
One of the best choices to accompany a tasty portion of Struffoli could certainly be a Passito di Pantelleria, preferably with good acidity. Its sweetness will balance that of the Neapolitan specialty, its acidity will make it not cloying.
Patisserie Scaturchio: contacts.
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crt-01 – Images published courtesy of Patisserie Scaturchio (Naples).
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