Web Only ArticleDecember 21, 2010

Dishing Up Sweet Memories

Traditions bring us together as families and as communities. At no time is this more evident--or more deliciously enjoyable--than around the holidays. This is the season when cookbooks are dusted off, old recipe boxes are opened and treasured dishes are recreated for friends and relatives.

The best holiday treats are textured and spiced by generations of cooks who knew that food was a meaningful way to celebrate and savor the season. Food traditions, like religious traditions, make this time of year unique and significant. For me, Christmas isn’t complete without my mom’s Plum Pudding or the delicious pyramid of honey-dipped fried dough (Struffoli Honey Balls) that my grandfather’s mother taught him to make when he was a boy.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Struffoli Honey Balls


These traditional Italian pastries are very popular around Christmas time. There are several versions of this sweet delicate treat. They can be fried like tiny fritter pastries and imbued with honey or cut into small squares and baked like cream puffs. We give you instructions for both versions. For best results, do replace eggs with egg substitute.

Fried Strufolli

Don’t refrigerate this classic Neopolitan dessert, which is best when eaten the same day it’s made.

Oil for frying*
2 cups gluten-free flour blend of choice
2 teaspoons grated orange or lemon rind
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons butter or oil
Colored sprinkles, optional
Candied cherries, cut in half, optional

1. Heat oil in a deep fryer or use a deep-sided pot and fill it half full with oil. Heat to 375 degrees.

2. Mix flour blend, grated rind, sugar and salt together in a bowl. Make a well. Crack eggs and yolk into well and add butter or oil. Use a fork to mix ingredients in the well and slowly incorporate into flour mixture. If the dough seems too dry, add another egg yolk. If too sticky, add more flour blend until dough loses its tackiness and is stiff. Knead dough until smooth. 

3. Roll dough out into ropes no thicker than your index finger. Cut ¼-inch slices on the diagonal. Fry in small batches until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel.

4. Place fried strufolli into warm honey syrup (recipe below) and stir until they’re well coated and they absorb the honey.

5. Arrange strufolli in a pyramid pile on a decorative plate. Sprinkle with colored sprinkles and candied cherries.

*TIP Olive oil is traditionally used for frying strufolli. If oil begins to froth and overflow the pot, start with fresh oil.

Honey Syrup

12 ounces honey (orange blossom, if available)
¾ cup sugar
⅓ cup water
2 ounces diced candied orange peel

1. Bring honey, sugar and water to a boil. Lower heat.

2. Add candied orange peel and struffoli.

Baked Struffoli

1 cup water
1 stick butter or dairy-free margarine, diced
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1¾ cups gluten-free flour blend of choice
5 eggs
1 teaspoon (heaping) grated orange or lemon rind

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.

2. Put water, butter, sugar and salt into a saucepan and bring to broil. Remove from heat once butter is melted. 

3. Stir in flour. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute.

4. Cool slightly. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in grated rind. 

5. Fit a pastry bag with a medium-size plain nozzle and fill bag with batter; pipe small rounds (marble size) 1 inch apart on baking sheets.

6. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

7. Drop struffoli into honey syrup and proceed as with fried struffoli, above.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Plum Pudding


A classic Christmas dessert, plum pudding is best if allowed to “mature” in the refrigerator for several weeks. Serve with a side dish of hard sauce. For best results, do not replace egg with egg substitute.

Brandy or cognac
1 cup raisins, currants or mixed dried berries
1 cup chopped, peeled apple
½ cup chopped dates
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1¼ cup gluten-free flour blend of choice
1 cup gluten-free fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons flax meal
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spices
½ cup sugar
½ cup melted butter, margarine or oil
½ cup milk of choice
1 egg
⅓ cup molasses

1. Sprinkle brandy or cognac over dried fruit, apples and dates. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Grease a 1½- to 2-quart mold (or several smaller molds). Select a pot large enough to hold the mold so that it sits in the pot and can be covered tightly. Fill pot half full with water and heat.

3. Put salt, baking soda, baking powder, flour blend, bread crumbs, flax meal, xanthan gum, pumpkin pie spices into a bowl. Add dried fruit, apples and dates and mix together. 

4. In separate bowl, whisk sugar, melted butter, milk, egg and molasses together. Stir in dry ingredients. 

5. Spoon batter into greased mold until ⅔ full. (Do not over-fill.) Cover mold tightly. If you’re using something other than a traditional pudding mold with a tight-fitting lid, wrap container in foil to keep water from getting into pudding as it steams. Place mold in hot water bath. Water needs to reach ¾ of the way up the mold.

6. Bring water to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cover pot. Take care that no water gets into the pudding as it cooks.* Cook pudding for 4 to 6 hours or until it feels firm to the touch. Remove from water bath and cool.

7. Wrap pudding in clean unbleached muslin and then wrap it in foil. Store pudding in the refrigerator to ripen for at least three weeks. Open pudding wrap from time to time and sprinkle judiciously with more liquor--or add liquor to the pudding cloth.

8. When ready to serve, return pudding to mold and steam as before for 1½ hours.

9. To serve, place warm pudding on a platter. Carefully warm several tablespoons of brandy and pour around the edge of platter. Ignite brandy with a long-stemmed match and (carefully!) carry flaming dessert to the table.

*TIP Some cooks prefer using a steamer to make plum pudding, which ensures that water will not enter the mold while the pudding cooks.

Hard Sauce


If hard sauce becomes too soft, place it in the refrigerator to stiffen.

½ cup unsalted butter or dairy-free margarine, softened
2½ cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon brandy or cognac

1. Cream butter until white.

2. Add confectioners’ sugar gradually, beating until mixture is creamy, about 5 minutes.

3. Add brandy and mix thoroughly. Serve as topping to plum pudding.

TIP To freeze plum pudding, cool it after steaming and wrap it in moisture-vapor-proof freezer wrap. Store it in the freezer for up to a year. When ready to eat, unwrap and thaw pudding loosely covered in the refrigerator. To warm before serving, return pudding to mold and steam for 1½ hours.

Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend

For super-fine grind, place brown rice flour in a food processor or clean coffee grinder and process until finely ground.

2½ cups super-fine brown rice flour
2 cups cornstarch
1½ cups sweet rice flour
1 cup gafarva or chickpea flour
1 cup tapioca starch
1 cup sorghum flour

Mix all ingredients together until well blended. Store in the refrigerator.

Rebecca Reilly is the author of  Gluten Free Baking (Simon & Schuster). Click here to purchase.


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