Friday, December 17th, 2010

Tardelle, or Struffoli

Back when Christmas was a season of joy rather than an extended period of coping and anxiety, i.e. when I was a child, we would spend the holiday at my grandparents' in south Jersey. My folks would stay for dinner and we slept over. Every year the kids would argue that we should open our presents after the meal rather than the next morning. My father always insisted that we should wait for Christmas Day, but he was consistently overruled by my grandmother, a remarkable woman who spoiled her grandkids rotten. It's hard to even imagine now, given how emotions harden and become more transactional and transitory as you age, but I'm pretty sure I loved my grandmother as much as any little boy has ever loved his grandmother. And there was never a question that she loved me back.

One of the main ways she expressed these emotions, as is the case with all Italian grandmothers, was through food. She was a terrific cook, and barely a minute went by between meals without her foisting cake or pudding or snacks or something else she had just whipped up on us. (My somewhat robust physique these days may owe a debt to those childhood binges.) My favorite thing of all was something she only made once a year: tardelle. (The spelling on this is from the instructions she wrote out for my mother, so I cannot vouch for its accuracy; she pronounced it "TAR-deel." It is also known as struffoli.)

Italians are not famous for their desserts, but I could never get enough of this. It was one more thing that made Christmas seem special. Here's her recipe.

1 cup honey
Grated orange peel
Confectionery sprinkles [the small, round ones]
2 3/4 cups of flour
3 eggs
Pinch of salt
Oil for frying [I would go with something like peanut oil]

Place salted flour in bowl. Make a well. Beat eggs and pour into flour. Mix and then knead until it's like noodle dough. [Here she writes, "I'm sure you know noodle dough." You may not, so just work it until it's somewhat smooth and elastic.]

Roll a piece of dough into a long strip onto a floured board, round like a pencil, and cut into small pieces.

Fry a few pieces in hot oil 'til golden. Repeat with remaining pieces. Drain on toweling. [I love that she used the word "toweling."]

Heat honey [in a separate pan] with grated orange peel. Stack the tardelle in a pyramid on a large plate. Drizzle warm honey over tardelle. (Work quickly.) Add sprinkles. [Alternately, you can coat the tardelle in the saucepan you use to warm the honey, but my grandmother always though it made them harder to stack later, and the presentation is important.]

And that's it. This is slightly inexact, but if you've ever fried anything before you shouldn't have too many problems with it. The recipe is going to make more tardelle than anyone can eat in one sitting, but that's okay. They're best when they're fresh, but they're still great over the next couple of days, even when they start going a little stale. They will taste like unconditional love.

33 Comments / Post A Comment

mathnet (#27)

You are making me sad and happy, Alex Balk!

jolie (#16)

SO MUCH EXCITED CLAPPING!!! Learning how to make struffoli was on my list of goals for this year and I haven't yet gotten around to it. Love this. Love you, even though you're a marzipan denier.

Matt (#26)

They like waiting until Friday afternoon to reveal that all the grousing was an act, generally. (Aw.)

iantenna (#5,160)

you've just made me think of oliebollen for the first time in years.

hockeymom (#143)

The sprinkles are a surprise. I have a vague memory of my Italian grandmother making this…but I thought there was powdered sugar.
Sprinkles=more fun!

mathnet (#27)

Also. My grandmothers didn't cook and I'm still pissed about that. Okay one of them made bread pudding and chocolate chip meringue cookies sometimes but come on.

"Italians are not famous for their desserts"


WindowSeat (#180)

come si dice "LOL WHUT?"

Legs Battaglia (#2,484)

Struffoli is *hard* to make well. Don't let the simple steps of this recipe deceive you. They have to puff up a little bit in the frying process or else they are like lead bullets in your stomach. Also, I've never heard "tardelle." I need a witness on that.

jolie (#16)

Your user name is *divine*

Annie K. (#3,563)

If it's pronounced TAR-deel, it wouldn't have been spelled "tardelle," would it? more like "tardile?" "tardilla?" with the final vowels dropped? Or with that emphasis on the TAR, maybe "tardele?" On top of general linguistic ignorance, I'm now adding confusion. All to avoid thinking about how hungry I am.

mathnet (#27)

Alex, was your grandmother an Italian national, or Italian-American?

Annie K. (#3,563)

See, that's the right question. Not all this linguistic analysis. Thank you, mathnet.

hockeymom (#143)

If my grandmother was to be believed, how you pronounce things is directly related to where you were born in Italy. If you speak like Dante, you are brilliant and from Florence or the surrounding area. If you start dropping vowels and slur the ends of your words, then you are a scemo (stupid) and most definitely from the south. And probably raise chickens in your house.

Where you were born in Italy and where you live in Brooklyn. By the time you get to Carroll Gardens, gnocchi is pronounced guh-NOSH, with a long O.

Also: "He's from Sicily?! That's not Southern Italy, that's Northern Africa!" (racist grandmas represent).

hockeymom (#143)

Sicily? Then the chicken in the house thing was just assumed.
(my racist grandmother used to tell us "I live in Milton, I stay in Milton. Sometimes I go to the North End. But I won't go round Mattapan way." Then she would raise an eyebrow so we would know exactly who she was talking about.

When giving out directions, to this day, my sisters and I always end the conversation with "and don't go round Mattapan way." Doesn't matter what state.

Annie K. (#3,563)

oh, oh, oh, y'all are making me miss Florence so much. I weep.

Legs Battaglia (#2,484)

thanks, jolie!

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

“salted flour”? When does that happen in the recipe?

It looks like gussied-up funnel cake. No?

mathnet (#27)

(It looks like a pile of chick peas.)

roboloki (#1,724)

chick peas with sprinkles taste like unconditional surrender (pronounced TURD-eel)

ericdeamer (#945)

I had to zoom in like 4 times to make it stop looking like chick peas! Actually, it still looks like chick peas even blown up to huge size. It's just that the multi-colored sprinkles throw off the illusion a little bit. I would also rather eat chick peas than a sweet but I realize that means I'm deranged.

Bittersweet (#765)

"Turd" may be the funniest word in the English language. Automatic snarfing.

Oh, this is very similar to the cookies I am going to make this weekend! My family calls them caragne, but they're usually known as cartellate. I bake them and coat them with honey, and then sprinkle a little cinnamon and the candy balls. But my great-grandmother's recipe calls for frying and using grape must, which I am going to attempt for the first time this year.

Aatom (#74)

My Nana didn't cook a lot, as she had a life-long fear of gaining weight because her own mother was obese. But she always had rocky road ice cream and mint Milanos in her cupboard. And that will always remind me of Christmas in Palm Springs.

cherrispryte (#444)

WAIT THERE IS AN ITALIAN WORD FOR HONEY BALLS? I was drunk before so I didn't look at the photo closely, but my great aunt(the italian one) makes these, despite the fact she is 92, and they are a REALLY FUCKING BIG DEAL. She calls them honey balls, or honey bows (same recipe) though.

BadUncle (#153)

I've seen these at all the Carrol Gardens bakeries. I think buying one would expedite the fat to my belly belly belly.

henhawk (#2,853)

Great, now I desperately want my nonna's Struffoli, but I can because she's dead. Nice job Balk. I think this warrants some fried dough delivery. Stat.

iplaudius (#1,066)

This is very touching, yes, but can we also talk about form? So concise and effective! In musical terms: a well played preparation, prolongation, and resolution.

camps (#4,692)

Interesting. In my family (Sicilians in South Louisiana), we always made these on Good Friday and called them pignolata(s). They never got sprinkles, though. Too festive for the day Jesus died, I'm assuming.

My grandmother always made these, but always like two weeks in advance. They'd be totally stale and absolutely stuck to each other and the paper plates. They were pignolata; hard as rocks.

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