Struffoli is a traditional Christmas treat native to the Southern Italian region of Naples. They are puffy balls of fried dough that are crispy on the outside, and light and airy on the inside. They are then drenched in citrus-scented warm honey and decorated with festive sprinkles.
Include these authentic Italian honey balls on your tray of Italian Christmas cookies this year for a tasty addition!
Struffoli is just one of the well-known southern Italian desserts you’ll love.
According to folklore, these Italian honey balls are supposed to bring good luck since their spherical shape symbolizes abundance.
As is usually the case with regional Italian cooking and baking, different names of Italian cookies vary depending on where they originated.
If you were in Sicily, this confection would be called Pignolata. In Abruzzo, they would be referred to as cicerchiata and Calabria, scalilli. Regardless of their name, one thing is for sure, these Italian cookies with honey are a special Christmas treat made with simple ingredients.
Although you can use your stand mixer with the hook attachment to make the dough for these struffoli. I will suggest that we work the dough manually.
So you will need a wooden board and some elbow grease… are you ready?
How to make struffoli: Italian honey balls
As previously mentioned, you can make these Italian sweet fritters with a stand mixer or the old-fashioned way with a wooden board and a lot of elbow grease.
Since the video in this article shows the method with the stand mixer, let me explain how these balls of honey come together on a wooden board.
We will first make a mound and shape approximately 3-3¼ cups of flour (450 grams) into a well. Start with 3 cups and evaluate how much of the ¼ cup you need to add to create a soft dough.
Add 4 eggs in the center of the well and with the help of a fork (or your fingertips), start beating while slowly incorporating a little bit of the flour.
Continue adding the ingredients, one by one, all the while incorporating the flour. More specifically, add 4 teaspoons of vegetable oil, 4 teaspoons of white wine, 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest (organic), 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of rum.
You can use a fork or a bench scraper in this process. Once the flour has absorbed the wet ingredients, start kneading. Almost magically, the dough becomes shiny and smooth.
That is your cue to wrap the soft dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for at least one hour.
Shaping the struffoli dough
Place the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface. With a knife or dough scraper, cut the dough in half. Repeat two more times to obtain eight pieces of dough.
Roll out each piece of dough into a long rope about ½ inch in diameter. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough.
Line up two strands of dough and, with the help of a pastry scraper or a knife, cut them into ½ inch pieces.
Roll each piece of dough between the palms of your hands to resemble a small marble. Place on a parchment-lined large cookie sheet. Repeat this process with the rest of the strands of dough.
Frying the dough
In a wide, heavy pot or electric fryer, preheat vegetable oil (about 3 cups) between 350°F-375°F (177°C-191°C).
While waiting, layer a few large cookie trays with paper towels.
Use a large slotted spoon or a large spider to lower 10-15 pieces of dough into hot oil at a time. Swirl the tiny balls until they puff up and become golden brown. This should take about 1½ -2 minutes.
Fish them out with your slotted spoon or spider and transfer them to the paper-lined tray to drain.
Continue frying the rest of the dough in small batches.
The honey coating
In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of honey with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice over low heat. Heat for a few minutes until the honey becomes runny.
While waiting, transfer the warm pieces of fried dough to a large mixing bowl.
Pour the hot honey glaze over the struffoli. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, combine gently until well coated.
How to serve struffoli
Pile them up: While they are still warm, pile the struffoli balls on a large cake stand or platter and decorate them with your favorite garnishings, like orange zest. You can also shape them into a large wreath. Use a large spoon or a set of tongs to serve these fried dough balls with honey.
Create a wreath: Spray the outside of a straight-sided water glass or bowl and place it upside down in the center of a large serving platter. Place the honey-drenched struffoli all around this “centerpiece.” Then, remove it, and you have the shape of a wreath. Complete the festive look with garnishings.
Individual servings: Place them in festive muffin liners for individualized serving portions.
Try adding some colorful garnishings to give your struffoli a festive look. Feel free to experiment with combinations to find the perfect topping for your holiday feast! Here are a few ideas:
- colorful nonpareils
- candied red and green cherries
- citrus zest, orange, or lemon
- strips of candied orange or lemon peel
- candied nuts
- edible ribbons
No matter what shape it takes or how you decorate them, these Italian fried cookies with sweet honey glaze are always a hit with the whole family!
Struffoli is pronounced, “stroo-foh-lee.”
Pignolata is a Sicilian version of struffoli. This is another example of different regions in Italy having unique names for similar dishes.
Yes, the fried and cooled pieces of dough can be made and refrigerated (up to 5 days) or frozen (up to 1 month) in an airtight container. Bring them to room temperature when ready to use and coat them with the warm honey mixture.
Yes, you can freeze the fried dough balls without the honey. Once they are fried, allow them to come to room temperature, then transfer them to an airtight container or freezer bag and store them in the freezer. It is preferable to use them within 1 month.
Store leftover struffoli in an airtight container. They can keep at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, but the texture will not be the same.
- You can easily cut the recipe in half if needed.
- Use high-quality honey for the best results.
- Replace the rum with grappa or brandy. You can also replace it with 1 teaspoon of rum extract.
- Cutting and rolling the balls of dough uniformly ensures they all fry and cook evenly.
- Space the little balls of dough out on the parchment paper, so they are not touching each other before frying. This will prevent them from sticking to one another.
- Use a candy thermometer if possible to ensure that your oil is at the right temperature (between 350°F and 375°F). You will most likely have to adjust the level of heat.
- Warming up the honey on low heat, just enough to make it runny, facilitates coating the entire balls of struffoli.
- Use a cake stand or serving plate with a bit of a rim to enclose the struffoli balls.
- For best results, fry the dough the same day it is made. If necessary, refrigerate for 12-24 hours.
Neapolitan Christmas desserts
Christmas is a time for family, friends, and food. In the Italian region of Campania, people come together to enjoy some of the area’s delectable traditional treats.
This Neapolitan favorite is called Roccocò. It is a taralli-shaped, somewhat hard, and spicy cookie that is perfect for dunking!
You can probably guess that this was one of the many recipes my mom would make exclusively at Christmas time. If you have been following along, you know that my mom was born in Molinara, Benevento. This is the Campania region of Italy.
I remember helping my mom roll up the little pieces of dough just before they were fried. I couldn’t wait for Christmas day when my mom would place this dessert in the center of the table, along with pizzelle and chestnut cookies, aka Calzoni di castagne.
Everyone, both kids and kids at heart, would gather around the table waiting for their favorite Italian dessert to appear – struffoli always captures everyone’s attention!
My eyes were focused on that delicious-looking platter -the one with the honey balls. I would always grab the ones at the bottom of the mound… I figured there was more honey, so they had to be sweeter.
Looking back, I think that was part of the Christmas magic… the anticipation that there would be so many wonderful meals and baked goods only made on special occasions. Couple that with the expectation of spending time with cousins and the extended family and, of course, the men singing a cappella after a few glasses of homemade wine and grappa.
No iPhones to capture those priceless moments but the memories are vivid in my mind.
One of the reasons that I continue to make and document so many “family” recipes is because they trigger memories. A particular smell or taste is all it takes.
I can still see my mom patiently peeling the outer shell of boiled chestnuts -the magical ingredient in her chestnut and chocolate sweet ravioli.
Hoping these recipes will also revive some of the beautiful memories you have and, if not, more importantly, create new memories for the next generation.
Forever in my heart, always on my mind. I dedicate this post to the loving memory of my mom ♥ Tanti Auguri mamma♥
THANKS SO MUCH for following and being part of the She Loves Biscotti community, where you will find Simple & Tasty Family-Friendly Recipes with an Italian Twist.
Ciao for now,
★★★★★ If you have made this recipe for struffoli, I would love to hear about it in the comments below and be sure to rate the recipe!
Struffoli aka Italian Honey Balls
- 450 grams all-purpose flour approx 3¼ cups
- 4 eggs extra large
- 4 teaspoons white wine
- 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon rum can also use grappa or brandy
- vegetable oil for frying
- 1 cup honey required for drizzling
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- strands of lemon zest to garnish
- nonpareils (sprinkles)
Making the dough
- Place flour on a wooden board. Shape into a well (form the flour into a well). Start with 3 cups and evaluate how much of the ¼ cup you need to add as you knead the dough.
- Place the ingredients, one by one, in the center of your well, while whisking with a fork.
- Continue to whisk while slowly incorporating the flour.
- Keep incorporating and kneading the dough. Switch to a dough scraper to help with this whole process.
- When the dough comes together, knead for about 10 minutes or until shiny and smooth.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature for at least one hour.
- Alternatively, you can use your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook to knead the dough.
Shaping the dough
- Place the ball of dough on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut the dough in half. Repeat 2 more times to obtain 8 pieces of dough.
- Roll out each piece of dough into a long rope about ½ inch in diameter. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough.
- Line up 2 strands of dough and with the help of a pastry cutter or a knife, cut them into ½ inch pieces. Roll each piece of dough between the palms of your hands to resemble a small marble. Place on a large parchment-lined cookie sheet. Repeat this process with the rest of the strands of dough.
- In a wide, heavy pot or electric fryer, preheat vegetable oil to 375°F (190°C).
- While waiting, line a cookie with a few layers of paper towels.
- Use a slotted spoon or a large spider to lower 10-15 pieces of dough into hot oil at a time. Swirl pieces of dough until golden brown. This should take about 1½ -2 minutes.
- Fish them out with your slotted spoon or spider and transfer them to the paper-lined tray to drain.
- Continue frying the dough in batches.
The honey coating
- In a small saucepan, over low heat, combine 1 cup of honey with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Heat for a few minutes until the honey becomes runny.
- While waiting, transfer the warm pieces of fried dough to a large mixing bowl.
- Pour the hot honey glaze over the struffoli. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, combine gently until well coated.
- Place honey-coated balls on a platter and garnish with lemon zest and sprinkles (if desired).
This recipe was originally published on December 3, 2014, republished on December 3, 2017, and again on December 3, 2022, with updated content. Thanks for sharing!