Sunday, January 18, 2009

Struffoli...Sounds So Much More Dignified Than Honey Balls!

So, I know it's a little bit late to be sharing Christmas recipes. What can I say? Had I planned on starting a food blog earlier, I would have written this up before Christmas. However, had I written this up before Christmas, I wouldn't have been able to share all of my important learnings.

You see, I actually just started making these in 2007. My Grandma Fran, whom I've mentioned before, passed away in December of 2006. After that point, I resolved that I would continue on some of her Italian traditions that made my childhood so special. And, I feared, if I did not continue these traditions, they would simply be lost to future generations. So, in November 2007, I called my Godfather Bill (aka, my Grandma Fran's culinary partner in crime) for the recipes for 3 of my Christmas favorites: honey balls, bow ties, and orange cookies. Right now, let's talk about the Honey Balls.

I was actually pretty amazed that my family had the recipe written down, as I NEVER had seen my Grandma refer to a recipe. Apparently, once she moved in with my Godfather, there were tons of arguments over the way every dish should be made, so they finally had to put some things on paper. Had it not been for these kitchen quarrels, re-creating these dishes would be very difficult.

Makes 2 Rings or Platters of Honey Balls

Dough Ingredients

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, scooped then leveled
3/4 teaspoonful baking powder
6 large eggs, room temperature

Syrup Ingredients (Per Ring or Platter, so you'll need to make 2 batches of this syrup)
1 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoonfuls orange zest
1/2 teaspoonful cinnamon
1/4 teaspoonful clove
1/4 teaspoonful allspice

Other Ingredients
Colored nonpareils
1 quart oil for frying (peanut oil preferably)

Special Equipment
Deep fryer
2 large, deep aluminum chafing dishes
2 large serving platters

Preparation (The Night Before)
  1. Sift together dry ingredients into a large bowl.
  2. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and add the eggs. Stir until eggs are incorporated, and then turn out onto a floured surface.
  3. Knead dough for about 5 minutes until dough is smooth and firm (like a baby's bottom, if baby's bottoms were muscular). This is a very stiff dough, but if it feels too dry, just wet your hands with lukewarm water and then return to kneading.
  4. Cover dough with an inverted bowl and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Knead again for 5 minutes. Do this another 2 times for a total of 3 kneads. Allow dough to rest, covered by an inverted bowl, overnight.

Preparation (The Next Day)

  1. Knead dough again. Then roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 1/2 inch strips, then roll these strips into ropes. Then cut each rope into 1/2 inch pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, but don't drive yourself crazy. Be sure to keep dough covered with a towel at all times, as it can dry out very quickly
  2. Once you are done, they should look like garbanzo beans.
  3. Heat oil to 375 F in a deep fryer. Once the oil is hot, drop dough pieces in batches into oil and fry until golden brown (be sure not to overcrowd the deep fryer). Drain to paper towels and divide into 2 batches, putting half in each chafing dish.
  4. Set fried dough balls aside while you make the syrup.
  5. To make your syrup, bring honey to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently.
  6. Reduce heat to low, then add orange zest, stirring until it is distributed throughout. Then add the remainder of the ingredients, and keep it over low heat (barely simmering) for 10 minutes.
  7. Place one of the dough ball-filled chafing dishes over 2 burners, set on the lowest possible heat. Pour the syrup over the balls and stir until all the balls are coated with honey.
  8. Transfer the balls onto a platter, and shape into a ring or a pile. Sprinkle with nonpareils.
  9. Make another batch of syrup and repeat this process for the other batch of dough balls.
  10. Once cooled, cover with plastic wrap well.
Notes and Learnings
  • This is a unique recipe in several ways. The syrup is more intensely flavored than most, due to the addition of the citrus and all the spices.
  • Speaking of the syrup...this is one area that I tweaked versus my family's original recipe. Although my Godfather had given me some measurements and some timing directions, I suspect these were a tad "off." The end result when I first made these in 2007 were a syrup that was completely unworkable and a honey ball that could pull out a filling or two. I found that by reducing my simmering time, using less sugar, and working in batches in a large, flat vessel over low heat (thus, the chafing dishes), I was able to achieve a superior result.
  • Plating these is tricky no matter what. So try to get someone to help you, and keep a bowl of cold water nearby. You'll want to keep your hands cold and wet because you'll absolutely need them to shape your platters.
  • This makes a firm, somewhat crunchy honey ball. I know that many times, struffoli are softer, and somewhat fritter like. We do not care for this type, and I think once you try this recipe, you will be sold.
  • Truth be told, I'm not sure that all the kneading is quite necessary, but this is the way my family does it, and everyone loves the way they come out, so I dare not change it. I suppose that all the kneading builds up the gluten, providing a lot of the structure and making the end result firmer than many other struffoli.
  • Ah, the word "struffoli"...that brings me to my next point. We don't call them that in my family. I'm calling them that here because that's what they're most commonly known as. In my family we call them "ciciri," presumably because of their pre-fried resemblance to garbanzo beans/chick peas (or "cici" in Italian). Oh, some people call them "pignolata" too, but "struffoli" is clearly the most popular name out there. Whatever you call them, they're truly delicious.

I do hope that you enjoy these as much as I do. I know this is more a Christmas dish, but who says you have to wait that long...Easter is right around the corner...

Cin Cin!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why Am I Blogging?

I'm asking myself that question as I sit here right now. It's not for lack of things to do. I have a demanding job that has my out of the house for far more than 40 hours a week. Then, when I get home, I have a brief case full of even more work to do. And, in between, I try to actually enjoy some time with my wonderful wife and 2-year old son.

I've always had a passion for good food. From cooking it to eating it, I truly appreciate everything about food. And the scientist in me really enjoys the science behind food too (Alton Brown, anyone?) I'm sure part of this influence comes from my Grandma Fran. A first generation Italian-American, my Grandma Fran could always be found cooking and baking up a storm. I loved spending time at her house around the holidays, where she set out a larger than life feast in--where else--the basement. And, every chance I could get, I would get inside the kitchen with her.

As I embark on this blog, I look forward to sharing this love and, of course, a recipe or two.

Cin cin!