I always remember my grandmother making Struffoli (honey balls) around Christmas time. Struffoli is a kind of Italian cookie, which was originally created to symbolize abundance and good luck. Stories exist that nuns once gave them to the Italian aristocracy during the holiday as a sort of thank you for all the good works they’d done for charity.
However they came into existence, they’re a gooey sweet treat I always enjoyed eating growing up – and still do!
When my grandmother reached the age where she could no longer fully prepare a meal for herself, my wife and I decided we would make the Struffoli dough at our house and then bring it over to assemble it with grams. On the small television in one corner of her kitchen, we’d pop-in a Christmas movie such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or “White Christmas” – both of which she enjoyed – adding to the holiday cheer that was already filling the room.
Grams loved just sitting at the kitchen table with my wife, rolling the mass of dough into small, half-inch balls – sometimes even singing along with Bing Crosby. Once they were rolled, they were fried in oil until a light golden color – crisp on the outside, but tender on the inside. It was my job to man the electric skillet – carefully dropping in a dozen or so dough balls and then draining them on a brown bag covered with a paper towel.
Grams was funny – she would eat the fully fried puffs as soon as they were cooled. While they weren’t sweet enough at this point to satisfy my wife’s tastes, grams just loved them – alternating between rolling the moist dough for me to fry and popping a “puff” into her mouth.
Once all the dough was fried and cooled, we’d prepare a mixture of honey and butter in a large pot on the stove. As soon as it was all warm and syrupy, we’d drop all the balls into the pot and stir them around vigorously until they were all nicely coated.
Then I’d pour them into a large (and I mean large) bowl and grams would toss on a liberal amount of colorful sprinkles. One more quick toss and they were all ready for us to eat.
Sadly grams passed away in June of this year, and it was a bittersweet moment when it came time to deciding if I really wanted to make a batch of Struffoli. And while it would be the first time in a long time that grams wasn’t there to share in the process, we went ahead with it anyway – remembering her fondly through each stage of the process.
I have no doubt in my mind that she was staring down at us smiling this year. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t even know how to make them, and more importantly wouldn’t have such wonderful memories associated with a little fried dough and some honey.