Gluten Free Vegan Allergy Friendly Struffoli
So, have you heard of the story of La Befana? La Befana, or sometimes called just Befana, is the legend of the Italian Christmas witch who delivers coal or candy to the boys and girls on the Eve of the Epiphany (January 6th). In the Bible, the Epiphany is when the 3 Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus and La Befana is the incarnation of that story. My boys love a little extra surprise from Befana, and my amazing sister-in-law (their Zia Angela) makes it even more special for all her nieces and nephews with handmade Befana stockings and treats for the kiddos. This traditional Italian Christmas recipe for struffoli is something we enjoy when waiting for La Befana, and most Italian families will attest to the fact it’s a staple at the dessert table this time of year.
Struffoli is a Neapolitan dessert of fried dough balls tossed in a honey syrup. It’s seriously fantastic, but it was a challenge to make egg and gluten free! My grandmother taught me to make it by feel, so making an actual recipe I managed to do it and the results are great. There is nothing fancy or special needed, just a good pot for frying and a candy thermometer helps just to keep the oil at the right temperature, so the struffoli dough doesn’t crisp on the outside but stay soggy on the inside. Struffoli is best within a day or two of eating because it’s fried, but the honey keeps it hard to stop munching.
As always, your safe substitutions can be put in wherever needed, and I have options for all. If you don’t need gluten free, use regular flour, etc.…
So as my final holiday post of this season wraps up, I hope La Befana brings you candy instead of coal and remember life is short so eat dessert first…safely!! Buon Natale! 💙👩🏻🍳🧙♀️
Ingredients and Substitutions
Gluten Free or Regular Flour – The struffoli dough can be made with either regular flour or gluten free flour. If using a gluten free flour blend, stick to the 140 g. per cup and use a blend that has xanthan gum. Add ¼ tsp. per cup of flour if it does not have it. Remember all gluten free blends are different with different densities there will have to be minor adjustments depending on the one you use, but they are minimal. I use King Arthur Flour Measure for Measure gluten free flour blend. 2 ½ c. is the starting measurement but most likely more will be needed.
Egg/Applesauce – This is your safe option of choice. If egg allergic I opt to use applesauce, but Ener-G can be used as well. I have not tested chia or flax eggs as they are not safe for Casey, but I do think they could work well as a substitute. There is a difference in the struffoli texture when eggs are not used but they are still perfectly delicious.
Honey – This is essential to the recipe so please don’t substitute with anything else! Use a milder flavor honey and not too dark. I haven’t many brands that aren’t safe for Casey even with all his allergies, but I tend to buy Trader Joe’s honey. It’s a great quality for an even better price!
Frying Oil – I use canola for deep frying, avocado is also a good choice. NOT RECOMMENDED is coconut, olive oil, unrefined oil or shortening, as their smoke point is too low and can cause a fire if overheated. I use Mazola canola.
Candy Thermometer – Although not essential to the recipe, it does help to maintain the proper temperature for frying. I get them very inexpensively at any store that has kitchen wares.
**As always, please check which brands are safe for your needs.**
Gluten Free Vegan Allergy Friendly Struffoli
Author: Katie Martino Lopez
Prep Time: 10 minutes prep, 30 minutes dough rest and about 45 minutes for frying and cooking/cooling honey syrup.
Frying Time: 2-4 minutes
Total Time: about 1 1/2 hours
Yield: about 8- 1/2 c. servings
- 2 ½ -3 c. regular flour or gluten free flour blend WITH xanthan gum
- 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 2 Tbls. vegan or regular butter, melted and slightly cooled (not cold)
- 3 Tbls. sugar
- 3 eggs OR ¾ c. unsweetened applesauce
- 1 Tbls. apple cider or white vinegar
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- Zest of EACH ½ lemon and ½ orange
- 1 oz. nondairy or regular milk (may need more)
- 1 c. mild honey
- ½ c. sugar
- 2 Tbls. water
- Oil for frying – SEE NOTES ABOVE!
- In a bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer with a paddle (or by hand with a wooden spoon) mix together melted safe butter, 3 Tbls. sugar, eggs OR applesauce, vinegar, vanilla, safe milk and zests. Mix until well combined.
- Add flour mixture until dough comes together. Scrape around the bottom and sides as the flour likes to lump in the bottom. The dough should be slightly tacky but not dry or wet. Add small amounts of flour as needed. IF USING GLUTEN FREE FLOUR – Note that all flour blends are different and may need more or less milk or flour as you go along. They tend to be dense and absorb a lot of liquid so be very cautious adding too much extra flour!
- Cover bowl with plastic and let rest at room temperature for a half hour.
- When a half hour is up, divide dough in 4. Working with one batch at a time and keeping the other dough covered, roll the dough into a long rope on a lightly floured surface. It’s better if the dough can stick to the surface a bit because it helps to roll out. Cut the dough into ¼”- ½” pieces, depending on how large you want them.
- In a medium heavy-bottomed pot with the thermometer clipped on, add the canola oil to fill pot about 1/3 of the way (the bottom of the thermometer needs to be submerged) and heat oil to 350 degrees on a medium flame. DO NOT make your flame too high or it can start a fire. Have a sheet pan lined with paper towels next to the stove to let the struffoli drain on.
- Working in small batches, fry the struffoli dough until golden, not too light, or too dark. Gently move them around as they fry and scoop onto the paper towels to drain when done using a slotted (not plastic) spoon.
- Continue to fry all the dough or refrigerate the unused portion. When done frying, set the hot oil pot aside to cool. The oil can strained when cool and reused. I save glass jars to save my frying oil. The struffoli dough can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to add the syrup, no more than overnight.
- While the struffoli cool, make the honey syrup. Bring the honey, ½ c. sugar and water to a low boil. Boil for 2 minutes then remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool to thicken a bit. If it is too hot, it will be soaked by the struffoli balls and make them mushy.
- When the syrup is ready, choose a serving plate or bowl for the struffoli and keep in close. Add the struffoli balls to the pot, tossing gently to coat and then keep piling up on the serving piece as you go along, make a rounded mound. Cover all the dough balls in the syrup. As it sets it will make it almost candy like and must be pulled off in yummy bunches.
- When done, the struffoli can be garnished with colored non-pareils or sprinkles or with Jordan almonds. Cover with foil as plastic will stick, and DO NOT put the struffoli in the refrigerator. The fridge moisture will make the syrup melt and make the dough mushy. Struffoli will keep for a few days at room temperature.
- The dough texture is very important, don’t be tempted to add too much flour unless it is covering your hands with stickiness. Remember, you can always add more but can’t take away!
- Make sure the syrup is cooked and cooled or it will be too thin and not keep the struffoli balls stuck together.
As we all know, reading labels and preparing food when managing allergies is a job within itself with much responsibility. All the brands I use are ones that I have contacted, and Casey has eaten safely. That being said, I must remind…
Please do your own research when deciding which products and foods are safe for the allergies you manage. These are the ones that are safe for our needs but may not be for you. Everyone has different comfort levels with manufacturing and production procedures.
And, as a friendly reminder, always have 2 epinephrine auto injectors on hand!