Struffoli, the perfect Italian Christmas dessert, are puffy balls of fried dough that are crispy on the outside, light and airy on the inside. These honey balls (aka Cicerchiata) are then drenched in citrus-scented warm honey and decorated with sprinkles.
They also make the perfect addition to your platter of Italian Christmas cookies!
Struffoli is just one of the well known Southern Italian Christmas desserts you’ll love.
According to folklore, these Italian honey dough balls are supposed to bring good luck since their spherical shape is a symbol of abundance.
As is usually the case with regional Italian cooking and baking, there are different names associated with this Italian specialty.
If you were in Sicily, this confection would be referred to as Pignolata. In Abruzzo, they would be referred to as cicerchiata. No matter what name they are called, one thing is for sure, they are a special Christmas treat.
I would like to suggest that we work the dough manually.
So you are going to need a wooden board and some elbow grease… are you ready?
How to make Italian struffoli
You can choose to make these Italian fritters with a stand mixer or the old fashioned way with a wooden board and a lot of elbow grease.
Since the video shows the method with the stand mixer, let me explain how these balls of honey come together on a wooden board.
The first thing we are going to do is make a mound and shape approximately 3-3¼ cups (450 grams) flour into a well. Start with 3 cups and evaluate how much of the ¼ cup you need to add.
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 vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of rum.
I like to use my dough scraper in this process. Once the wet ingredients have been absorbed by the flour, start kneading. Almost magically, the dough becomes shiny and smooth. That is your cue that you are done.
If you prefer, you can use your stand mixer with the hook attachment to make the dough for these struffoli.
Wrap the struffoli dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least one hour.
Shaping the struffoli dough
Place the ball of dough on a lightly floured cutting board. With a knife or dough scraper cut the dough in half. Repeat 2 more times in order 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 scraper or a knife, cut 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 to 375°F (190°C).
While waiting, line a large cookie tray 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 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 in batches until all the dough is done.
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 very 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 with your favorite garnishings. You can also shape them into a large wreath.
Create a wreath: Place a large cup or bowl upside down on a very large serving platter. Place the honey-drenched struffoli all around this “centerpiece”. Then, simply remove it and you have the shape of a wreath. Complete the festive look with garnishings.
Use a large spoon or a set of tongs to serve these fried dough balls with honey.
Individual portions: For individualized serving portions, simply place them in festive muffin liners.
- candied red and green cherries;
- lemon or orange zest;
- 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 honey glaze are always a hit with family and friends!
How long do struffoli last?
Without the honey, these fritters can last up to 1-2 days at room temperature; once honey-coated they are best eaten within 24 hours.
- The recipe can be cut in half.
- 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.
- When placing the little balls of dough on the parchment paper, space them out so that they do not touch each other.
- Use a candy thermometer to monitor the heat of the oil throughout the process of frying. You will most likely have to adjust the heat.
- Warming up the honey on low heat, just enough to make it runny, will facilitate coating the entire balls of struffoli.
- Use a cake stand or plate with a little rim to enclose the struffoli balls.
- For best results, the dough should be fried the same day it is made. However, it can also be refrigerated for 12-24 hours.
Italian Christmas cookies we love
With a title like Struffoli di Mamma, you can probably guess that this was one of the many recipes my mom would make exclusively at Christmas. If you have been following along, you know that my mom was born in Molinara, Benevento.
I remember helping my mom roll up the little pieces of dough, just before they were ready to be fried. I couldn’t wait for Christmas day when my mom would place this dessert in the center of the table, along with her mostaccioli and chestnut cookies aka Calzoni di castagne.
The kids, and some of the kids at heart, would gather around the table waiting for their favorite dessert to appear. My eyes were focused on the struffoli platter. I would always grab the ones at the bottom of the mound… that’s where all the honey had accumulated.
Looking back, I think that was part of the Christmas magic… the anticipation that there would be so many wonderful meals and baked goods that were only made once a year. Couple that with the anticipation 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.
The capacity of these memories to be triggered by a scent or taste is one of the reasons that I continue to make and document so many of these “family” recipes.
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 wonderful memories that you have, and equally if not more important, creating new memories for the next generation.
I would love to hear some of your food memories!
Forever in my heart, always on my mind. This post is dedicated to the loving memory of my mom ♥ Tanti Auguri mamma♥
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Ciao for now,
★★★★★ If you have made this recipe for Italian Honey Balls, 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 (basically form the flour into a wreath shape). 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 dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for at least one hour.
- Alternately, 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 in order 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 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.
- In a wide, heavy pot or electric fryer, preheat vegetable oil to 375°F (190°C).
- While waiting, line a large cookie tray 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 very 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, and republished on December 3, 2017, with updated content, photos and recently with a video.