Pignolata, also known as Struffoli in Naples, is a very popular dessert in Southern Italy, an area that was dominated by Spain for centuries, and its origin is from the region of Andalusia.
These Christmas marble-sized honey fritters are deep-fried and then rolled in honey before being assembled into a cone or a globular wreath.
This dessert belongs to the tradition of “peasant cooking”, and it is about customs, celebration, and sweetness. I decided to make Pignolata for my husband, as it was one of the few Calabrian dishes his mother made that he loved.
Like many Italian Christmas dishes, these fritters are the fruit of a collective effort, of many generations around the kitchen table working together. Rolling these little balls is child’s job, as their little hands are particularly apt to it.
This simple version, with no candied fruit, glacé cherries, or almond dragées is typical of my husband’s family. In other far richer cities like Messina in Sicily, this simple version was despised by the rich. For them, the local pastry chef created a double lemon and chocolate frosting, which could suit the more demanding palates (and bigger budgets) of aristocratic Sicilians. In Naples, the decoration is very multi-coloured, a real visual joy, full of all the most coloured candied fruit and silver dragées.
If you prefer something a bit more original, try the red raspberry version.
Prep Time: 60 minutes | Cooking Time: 30 minutes | Total Time: 90 minutes | Yield: Makes 12 servings.
For the dough
- 4 ¾ cups (600 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 6 eggs
- A pinch of salt
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Anise or Sambuca liqueur
- 4 tbsp white sugar
- 1 organic lemon zest, finely grated
- Vegetable oil (sunflower) for frying
- 28 oz (800 g) honey
Mix all the ingredients (except the honey and vegetable oil) in a bowl, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook. Work the dough until it is smooth. This doesn’t take very long: about 3 minutes or 5 minutes by hand.
Let it rest in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap, for 2 hours.
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 out 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.
Fry them (deep frying) in small batches until they are golden and lay the marbles on kitchen paper. When you have finished frying, discard the oil and clean the pan with kitchen paper.
Pour the honey in the pan and, when the honey is warm, tip all of the fried dough balls into it 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 place a wet glass or a pastry ring on it. Arrange the balls in the shape of a pyramid or a wreath with a serving spoon.