Honey Cakes (sans honey) ready for shipment back East.
Christmas for my sister and I always began with my Aunt Pauline her family coming over to our house shortly after Thanksgiving for the two day process of making Italian Christmas Honey cakes, or Struffoli. I guess my Aunt Pauline came from a part of Italy that wasn’t satisfied with just a “ball” shape – we made festive shapes like Christmas Trees, a Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, and Christmas Wreaths.
I thought I’d post the recipe here so my sister could find it….not that she’d ever make these. Somehow, this part of our Christmas tradition got handed down to me.
You’ll note this is a written version of a recipe made from watching my mother, so all measures are approximate. (Mom, remember when we made these in Liberia during your visit to me while I was teaching at ELWA??!! Ahhhh, Christmas on the beach with Italian Honey Cakes! What a fine memory!)
Italian Christmas Honey Cakes
(yields 2 Family-sized Glad plastic container –13 cups – filled to the brim)
6 heaping c. flour
3 heaping t. baking powder
2 1/2 rounded t. salt (1t if using salted butter)
2 rounded T. sugar
Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in:
1 1/2 c. butter
5 large eggs slightly beaten
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 c. milk
Knead dough for 15 minutes. Add milk and butter if too dry, and flour if too sticky. Dough should be smooth and not tear as you work it – like the consistency of pasta dough. Separate the dough into 4 loaves and place in an oiled bowl. Cover.
Now, some videos on how to shape the dough:
(Aubrey, the daughter of our friends Joe and Renee, did the camera work and appears as my helper!)
The Christmas Tree Shape
This is my favorite shape. Easy to make, and very impressive when you’ve got a forest of them on a gift plate.
The Baby Jesus Shape
OK, so you need to use your imagination a bit with this shape…
The Christmas Wreath Shape
I usually make only one wreath for each gift plate I give, as it takes a bunch of dough and is not as much fun to eat as the Christmas Tree shape.
And, now on to the frying.
I like to let my shapes sit overnight covered with a dishtowel (this helps them to not come “unglued” when frying.) Set your deep fat fryer at 375 degrees and fry shapes until they’re a rich, golden brown. (If you don’t have a deep fat fryer, use a heavy deep pot filled with 2 inches of vegetable oil. Heat until a 1″ cube of bread fries to golden brown in 60 seconds – that’s about 375 degrees. Be VERY careful when deep fat frying. Keep a fire extinguisher close by and NEVER overload the pot. I don’t add more than 12 trees to the pot at any one time. You’ll need to change the oil after about 3 batches, as it starts to foam up and is difficult to control. I find stirring the foam helps. Three quarts of oil will suffice for the amounts given in this recipe)
Drench your shapes in honey. You can also sprinkle with colored sprinkles or silver coated sugar balls. My sister and I called the silver balls “buckshot”, ’cause that’s what they looked like, and what they were like biting into. I don’t use the silver balls any more. Maybe you won’t want to use them, either….(they were pretty, though.)
This recipe also freezes well. Put your cooled, fried shapes on a baking tin and freeze. Then, place the frozen shapes in a plastic bag. They will keep this way for at least a month. To thaw, take them out of the bag and place on a plate or baking sheet. Drench with honey after they’re thawed.