The holidays bring out the best in desserts. There's nothing like a giant pile of elaborately decorated sweets to make a person feel festive, and Giada De Laurentiis has a gorgeous take on a traditional Italian Christmas dessert called a struffoli. It's impressive and fun, but it's surprisingly easy and a great thing to make together with family.
A struffoli is a big pile of honey-coated pastry balls that are sweet on the outside and soft on the inside. It looks a lot like a French croquembouche, but the balls are the size of marbles. They're served all over Italy around Christmastime. Giada says she's been making them every year for Christmas Eve dinner with her aunt for as long as she can remember, and now her daughter, Jade, helps too.
"More than any other dish, sweet or savory, preparing the dessert known as struffoli tells me Christmas is truly here," De Laurentiis writes. "Like a French croquembouche or a Norwegian ring cake, it's an impressive-looking sweet that is really festive and fun to make."
Giada's struffoli looks stunning and festive, but it's surprisingly easy to make. She starts by making tons of tiny balls of fried dough; each ball starts out about half an inch in diameter, and they puff up when cooked.
If you don't like to fry things, Giada says this works just as well with baked balls. Just pipe out tiny balls of choux pastry onto a lined baking sheet and cook them like tiny cream puffs.
Once she has a big pile of dough balls, Giada adds toasted hazelnuts and coats the whole thing in a hot syrup made of honey, sugar, and a bit of lemon juice, then mixes them until all the balls are coated. The honey sauce is hot, but if you've ever made Rice Krispies treats, the process is basically the same.
After that, she just piles the honey-coated balls into a pyramid shape. (If you want it to look very tall and pristine, Giada says you can pile them up on top of an upside-down glass or vase, which can be removed once the honey cools.) Wreath-shaped struffoli are also traditional, so if you can't manage to get the pile to stand up in a pointed mound, shaping it into a big ring is completely acceptable.
Once the pile of dough balls is arranged, the struffoli is decorated with anything festive. Candy, colored sprinkles, Jordan almonds, candied fruit, and more nuts are all fair game, as is anything else that seems tasty and festive. This is a great project for kids, too. Once the honey sauce is cool enough, kids love piling on the decorations. Giada's daughter started decorating her family's annual Christmas Eve struffolis when she was 5 years old.
Making struffoli together is the kind of holiday tradition people remember their whole lives, and this could be a great year to start.
Get the recipe: How to Make Italian Struffoli from Giadzy
Have you ever made struffoli?