As a child I always looked forward to my grandma making Christmas treats. She made hundreds of cookies every year! Another treat she made, which I was thinking about this afternoon was “pignolata.” Pignolata is one of the most popular southern Italian sweets made for Christmas. It used to be made in Sicily usually during Carnevale (similar to mardi gras), but is now also made during Christmas. You can find pignolata in different parts of Sicily with different names: pignocata, pagnuccata, pignolata, and in other places it was called struffoli.
So what exactly is pignolata? It is basically fried dough balls drizzled in honey. Every recipe I have found uses candy sprinkles on top. My grandma’s version always had chocolate chips in it, and never had sprinkles. She’d have powdered sugar on top and we could always find it in a pie tin, covered in plastic wrap. It was delicious! I remember one day, my dad brought a friend over and he ate an entire tin of the stuff!!
There is a little Italian bakery by my dad’s house that still makes it and sells it around the holidays. It costs a pretty penny (about $15 a tin), but worth every dime! It is also worth it because my grandma said it took a lot of time to make.
I found a few recipes online, but I am almost positive I have grandma’s recipe at home somewhere. If not, I know I have a few cousins who may have one. One day I would love to make this!!
If you are inclined to try, here is a recipe you can try. If I can find grandma’s – I’ll post it.
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (extra may be needed)
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- zest of one large orange
- 1 cup orange blossom honey
- Vegetable oil to fry
To make the dough
- In the bowl of a large mixer, beat eggs sugar, salt and oil.
- Sift the flour into the mix and beat on medium speed with a dough hook until you obtain a soft dough. Add more flour as needed a little at a time if the dough is too sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until it is smooth.
- Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll into ropes (about ½ inch thick). Cut each rope into ½ inch pieces and roll the pieces in your hands (like you’re making meatballs) into little balls.
- Toss a little bit of flour on the dough balls so they don’t stick while you roll the other pieces.
- Heat oil in a large heavy saucepan to 350 degrees F.
- Carefully add about 6 pieces of dough at a time and fry until they are evenly browned (about 3 minutes).
- Remove the dough pieces with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat process until you fry all the pieces of dough.
To make the syrup
- In a large skillet, bring the sugar, water and orange zest to a boil. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves.
- Whisk in the honey; reduce the heat to medium-high.
- Add the balls and stir to coat them evenly with the honey syrup. Cook for about 5 minutes until they obtain a nice glaze.
- Immediately place them on serving plate stacking them like a pinecone. Use caution as they are very hot.
- Toss on the sprinkles.