Friday, December 16, 2011

Turdilli - Italian Christmas Treats

My mother and father are both from the same small town in the Calabria region of Italy.When they emigrated to this country they brought with them many Calabrese traditions, especially when it came to food. During the Christmas season my mother would prepare a wide variety of special foods that were customary in her small village. Among them were these Turdilli, which would take her a full day to prepare, not because the process takes that long, but because she would make enough to feed the whole village. 

When the process began to be too much for my mother, my sisters and I pitched in to get them done. We would devote the Saturday or Sunday before Christmas to make the Turdilli making it an all day affair. It was a day for us sisters to gab and catch up on what's happening with our kids and jobs. While we made the Turdilli our kids would decorate Mom and Dad's Christmas tree. Mom taught us how to make the Turdilli with careful explanations of every detail involved in the process. No detail was missed and she insisted we all wear hairnets so as not to contaminate these beautiful treats. She took incredible pride in making these each Christmas and to honor her memory we have carried on the tradition and believe she would be proud of Turdillis we made this year.  

Turdilli are essentially a basic pasta dough that is rolled and shaped into rings, sticks or pretzels, and than deep fried till they expand and become golden brown. When cool they are coated in hot honey which gives them their beautiful, shiny finish and sweet taste.

There are many versions of this treat and they go by a variety of different names such as Stuffoli, or Cripelle, depending on the region or area of Italy.

This year be made 2 batches of the recipe. Every year I record what worked, or didn't work and any important new details we identified to remember for next year. My three sisters that live nearby all participated as did a number of nieces, daughters, daughter-in-laws and my dad.  It was a full day of hard work but lots of fun.


The dough:
 2 dozen large eggs
3 T. sugar
approximately 14-16 cups of all purpose flour - Robin Hood is preferred
at least 1 gallon good peanut oil for frying

The honey coating:
2 1/2 lbs. clover honey
1/2 c. water
2 T. sugar
Nonpareils for decorating

Prepare the dough:
Sift the flour into a very large bowl. Measure out 10 cups and set aside. Measure out another 4 cups and place in a separate bowl, and set aside. 

Beat eggs and 3T. sugar with a Kitchen Aid mixer using the whipping wisk at high speed (8) for 5-7 minutes, until mixture is light yellow and frothy. 

Change to paddle, and at low speed, gradually add the 10 cups of flour, one cup at a time. The batter should be soft and spongy.

Spread one cup of flour from the second bowl onto a counter top (granite works great) and pour the batter on top.  Begin to knead the dough adding the remaining 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time until the dough won't absorb any more flour. Knead until the dough has a smooth and silky appearance. It should be soft and malleable. 

Cover dough with large bowl and let rest for 20 minutes.

Cut the dough in half, placing one dough on top of the other and knead again for about 2 more minutes. 

Cut that dough in half, placing one on top of the other and knead again for another 2 minutes. Repeat this process one more time. 

Now place the dough in a large, clean bowl that has been lightly oiled. Turn dough to coat all sides. Cover the top with some waxed paper and let rest another 5 minutes.  

After 5 minute the dough is ready to roll and shape. Begin by cutting a small chunk of dough. Not using any more flour, roll the dough into a long rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. Shape the rope into a pretzel shape or ring or stick, or simple twist.  Now with a small paring knife cut small notches around whatever shape you have created.  This will give the dough its flourish when fried. 

Place each finished piece of dough on a dry cloth covered pan or table. Do not add any flour. Keep the dough as free of flour as possible as it tends to cause the hot oil to froth up excessively. 

Heat the oil in a large pot filling to no more than 1/3 full. Heat to 350 degrees. Fry just a few pieces at a time (4-6) until they are golden brown on both sides. Drain well on paper towels and cool. 

Coating with honey:
When all the dough has been fried begin to prepare the honey. Fill a large pot about 1/3 full with the honey.  Add the 2 T. sugar and water. Mix together and heat till the mixture begins to boil and the sugar has fully dissolved. 

Keep the heat to medium and add the fried dough a few pieces at a time. Turn till each piece is fully coated. Place coated pieces on a tray and lightly sprinkle with the nonpareils.
Buon Natale!


  1. My parents are from Reggio Calabria... I lost both of them and was telling my children how much I miss Turdilli..My mama would make them with red wine also, and another treat was rolled up with nuts and raisins.. do not remember the name. Thank you so much for this article and recipe... Buon Natala

    1. Dear Teresa. It is wonderful to hear from others that are familiar with these very special treats. We didn't make turdilli this year and boy did I miss them.
      My mother used to also make some turdilli with red wine who her brother (my uncle) was especially fond of. As to the treat made with nuts and raisins, I believe you may be referring to Pita Piata or Pit’Impiglianta. My family didn't make them but I have relatives where this is a traditional Christmas treat. Does that name sound familiar? If you need a recipe for the Pita Piata just Google the name - there are lots of recipes available.