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HONEY-GLAZED STRUFFOLI WITH CANDIED CRANBERRIES

By Rob Gentile

There was always a table allocated just for desserts at Christmas.

It was in another room and it was just covered. And you could eat off the sweet table at any time, before dinner, in the middle of dinner, after dinner, in the morning. It was just there for you to snack on. There was always a main meal, always a pot of something cooking or a roast in the oven or a porchetta, or fish if it’s Christmas Eve. Three days of nonstop eating. That’s how you roll with Italian Christmas. There are many types of pastries that are made only at Christmas but my favourite—and I think it’s quite special—is the struffoli. It’s just killer and looks pretty cool, too—a mountain of crispy balls covered in honey. Typically, it is Neapolitan, but it’s so festive that it’s spread to other regions.

It’s an Italian version of a croquembouche but it doesn’t have to be particularly refined— and it’s great for any special occasion. You decorate it with sprinkles or preserved cherries or candied fruit. It’s traditionally an Italian dish, but you can transform it any way you want. Shiny silver balls are great too—I mean, who doesn’t like a sprinkle? It’s not culturally exclusive, it’s just Christmas.—R.G.

From Canada’s 100 Best Cooking Issue 2016

INGREDIENTS

Serves
8

Candied Cranberries

  • 500 g (1 lb) cranberries
  • 590 g (3 cups) granulated sugar

Struffoli

  • Oil for deep frying
  • 400 g (3 cups) flour
  • 40 g (3 tbsp) granulated sugar
  • 5 g (1¼ tsp) baking powder
  • 2 g (1/2 tsp) salt
  • 80 g (1/3 cup) cold butter, diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 30 g (2 tbsp) Liquore Strega
  • 1 orange, zest only, grated
  • 1 lemon, zest only, grated
  • Flour for dusting

Finish

  • 300 g (1 cup) liquid honey
  • 400 g (14 oz) fried struffoli
  • 50 g (2 oz) candied cranberries
  • 50 g (2 oz) candied fennel seeds (available at South Asian grocers)
  • Silver sugar pearls for garnish
METHOD

To begin, blanch the cranberries for 30 seconds in boiling salted water and then shock in iced water. Meanwhile, combine 250 g (1¼ cups) sugar with 300 ml (1¼ cups) water on medium heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for three minutes. Set aside to cool. Add cranberries and let steep for 24 hours, then strain syrup into another saucepan, reserving the fruit. Add 60 g (1/4 cup) sugar to the syrup, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for three minutes. Let cool. Return the fruit to the syrup for 24 hours, and drain. Repeat three more times, adding another 60 g (1/4 cup) sugar to the syrup each time. Finally, on the through a sieve.

Spread the drained fruit on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet to cool and dry, then store in a sealed plastic container. Preheat deep-fryer to 175°C (350°F). Mound the flour on a wooden work surface and make a well at the centre. Sprinkle sugar, baking powder and salt over the flour. Place butter, eggs, Strega and zest in the well. Slowly fold flour inwards, incorporating it into the egg mixture. Once a dough begins to form, scrape the work surface clean and knead the dough ball until smooth and elastic—10-15 minutes. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and set aside to rest in the refrigerator. On a floured work surface, roll dough into a square about 1 cm (1/2”) thick. Cut a grid to create squares of dough about 1 cm by 1 cm (1/2” by 1/2”). Dust generously with flour, and then with your hands roll each square into a ball. Fry until crisp and golden brown all over—about 3 minutes.

Drain on paper towels and set aside. To finish, transfer honey to a saucepan and boil on medium heat for 3 minutes. Set aside to cool, slightly, then transfer to a large bowl. Add struffoli, cranberries and candied fennel seeds, and fold together until the struffoli are well glazed. Use tongs (or fingertips, moistened with ice-cold water so that they don’t stick) to transfer them to a large platter, and arrange in the shape of a wreath. Sprinkle with sugar beads and—if desired—extra candied cranberries and fennel seeds.

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