Diana Rubino is here today to share her grandmother’s #HolidayRecipe for Strufoli (Italian for honey balls) and to tell us about her historical novel set in Turn of the Century New York. The honey balls look delicious!
Can an Italian sweatshop worker and an Irish cop fall in love on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1894? The answer is a big YES, and once they’re enjoying wedded bliss in their Greenwich Village brownstone, they spend their first Christmas together feasting on her Strufoli! (Italian for honey balls).
In FROM HERE TO FOURTEENTH STREET it’s 1894 on New York’s Lower East Side. Irish cop Tom McGlory and Italian immigrant Vita Caputo fall in love despite their different upbringings. Vita goes from sweatshop laborer to respected bank clerk to reformer, helping elect a mayor to beat the Tammany machine. While Tom works undercover to help Ted Roosevelt purge police corruption, Vita’s father arranges a marriage between her and a man she despises. As Vita and Tom work together against time and prejudice to clear her brother and father of a murder they didn’t commit, they know their love can survive poverty, hatred, and corruption. Vita is based on my great grandmother, who left third grade to become a self-made businesswoman and politician, wife and mother.
Vita’s hero Tom McGlory isn’t based on any real person, but I did a lot of reading about Metropolitan Policemen and made sure he was the complete opposite! He’s trustworthy and would never take a bribe or graft.
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Here’s Vita’s Honey Balls recipe:
When my grandparents came from Naples and landed at Ellis Island in the early 1900s they brought many recipes with them, but only in their heads. No one brought cookbooks or written recipes on the boat along with their possessions. A favorite Christmas treat is Struffoli, better known as Honey Balls. One Christmas when I was a kid, I watched my grandmother make them and scribbled down the ingredients as she sifted and mixed and baked and drizzled. Here’s an accurate recipe in English!
•2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
•1 large lemon, zested (about 2 teaspoons)
•1/2 large orange, zested (about 2 teaspoons)
•3 tablespoons sugar
•1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
•1/4 teaspoon baking powder
•1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature
•3 large eggs
•1 tablespoon white wine, such as pinot grigio
•1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
•Canola oil, for frying
•1 cup honey
•1/2 cup sugar
•1 tablespoon lemon juice
•1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted (see Cook’s Note)
•Vegetable oil cooking spray
•Sugar sprinkles, for decoration
•Powdered sugar, for dusting, optional
For the dough: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 2 cups of flour, lemon zest, orange zest, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the eggs, wine, and vanilla. Pulse until the mixture forms into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Cut the dough into 4 equal-sized pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece of dough until 1/4-inch thick. Cut each piece of dough into 1/2-inch wide strips. Cut each strip of pastry into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a small ball about the size of a hazelnut. Lightly dredge the dough balls in flour, shaking off any excess. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour enough oil to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted in the oil reaches 375 degrees F. (If you don’t have a thermometer a cube of bread will brown in about 3 minutes.). In batches, fry the dough until lightly golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. (The rested and quartered dough can also be rolled on a floured work surface into 1/2-inch thick logs and cut into equal-sized 1/2-inch pieces. The dough pieces can then be rolled into small balls and fried as above).
In a large saucepan, combine the honey, sugar, and lemon juice over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the fried dough and hazelnuts and stir until coated in the honey mixture. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan for 2 minutes.
Spray the outside of a small, straight-sided water glass with vegetable oil cooking spray and place in the center of a round platter. Using a large spoon or damp hands, arrange the struffoli and hazelnuts around the glass to form a wreath shape. Drizzle any remaining honey mixture over the struffoli. Allow to set for 2 hours (can be made 1 day in advance). Decorate with sprinkles and dust with powdered sugar, if using. Remove the glass from the center of the platter and serve.
Note: To toast the hazelnuts, arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven until lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely before using.
Total Time: 4 hr 12 min
Prep: 1 hr 30 min
Yield: 8 to 10 servings