Italian Christmas Recipes/ Italian Desserts

Struffoli – Italian Honey Balls

December 5, 2020 by Emily

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Struffoli or Italian Honey Balls are tiny balls of fried dough tossed in a delicious sticky honey sauce and decorated with festive sprinkles. It’s such a fun and impressive Italian Christmas dessert that the whole family can get involved making!

A side shot of Italian struffoli (honey balls) on a cake stand topped with sprinkles

Struffoli are wonderful deep fried golden honey balls originating in Naples, in fact, my whole five years living in Tuscany I never saw these at Christmas time once although there were plenty of Ricciarelli and Panforte around. It’s amazing how regional Italian food is.

And because I love everything about Italian cuisine and Christmas I had to learn how to make these, they are just so pretty and festive!

You might also see these honey balls called Cicerchiata (Abruzzo), Scalilli (Calabria), or Pignolata (Sicily) but whatever you call them they are sweet, sticky and delicious.

And although they might look like mini fried doughnuts they don’t have that kind of texture, they’re crispy on the outside with a slightly softer middle and the honey makes them sweet, sticky and utterly delicious.

Ingredients – what you need

To make these Italian honey balls you need; flour (Tipo 00 is typically used in Italy but all-purpose flour will also work), sugar, eggs, butter, baking powder, orange zest, rum (or liqueur of choice), honey, sprinkles, and vegetable oil for frying.

See the photo below that shows all the ingredients you need!

An overhead shot of all the ingredietns you need to make Struffoli

How to make Struffoli – step by step

Put all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt & orange zest)  in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the middle and add the melted butter, eggs, and rum (photos 1 & 2).

Mix the ingredients together until it starts to come together then knead into a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave to rest for 30 minutes (photos 3 & 4).

Step by step photos showing how to make struffoli dough

Once rested, cut the dough in half then cut each half into 3 equal pieces. One at a time roll each piece of dough into a long sausage shape about 1cm thick. Cut each log into small pieces roughly 1cm in size (just like making gnocchi but much smaller) (photos 5 – 8).

Step by step photos showing how to roll struffoli into balls

Roll each cut piece of dough into balls using the palms of your hands and place on a board or surface lightly dusted with flour so they don’t stick. Make sure they are in a single layer and not on top of each other (photo 9).

Using a thermometer, heat the oil in a large pot to 375°F (190°C). Fry the struffoli in batches until golden brown (30-40 seconds). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper (photos 10 & 11).

Step by step photos showing how to fry struffoli

Once the struffoli have cooled, add the honey to a large pot (big enough to hold all of the struffoli) and heat it gently just until it becomes very liquidy, it will only take a few seconds (photo 12).

Add the cooled struffoli and gently stir until they are thoroughly coated in the honey, let them soak up the honey for 2-3 minutes (photos 13 & 14).

Arrange the struffoli in your desired shape (ring or mound) on a serving plate (see notes for tips) and once the honey has cooled sprinkle over your festive sprinkles (photos 15 & 16).

Step by step photos showing how to toss struffoli in honey and assemble them in a ring shape

Top tips and recipe FAQs

  • Flour – although Italian 00 flour is typically used to make these regular all-purpose flour will also work!
  • Rolling out the dough – Don’t flour your surface to roll the dough into logs unless you really need to as it can make it much harder to roll out. There’s enough butter in the dough so it shouldn’t stick.
  • Shaping the dough – you can pinch small pieces of dough and roll them into balls rather than rolling out logs and cutting them but I find that it’s harder to keep them at an even size. Rolling and cutting the dough is very easy, just like making gnocchi but much smaller.
  • Frying – make sure you use a candy thermometer to heat your oil to the correct temperature. It makes things much easier, if your oil is too hot they will brown too easily and be raw in the middle.
  • After frying – make sure to drain the struffoli straight after frying on kitchen paper so any excess oil is absorbed.
  • Decorating – You can decorate the struffoli with any kind of sprinkles you like, some variations also decorate them with glacé cherries and almonds.
  • Honey coating – make sure to warm the honey very gently (it doesn’t have to be hot) just so it turns very liquidy, this makes it much easier to coat the dough balls. If you want to add in a splash of liqueur make sure you don’t add in too much (1-2 tbsp max) or it’ll thin the honey down too much and they won’t stick as easily.
Can I prepare these in advance?

Fried and drained struffoli will last up to 4-5 days in a sealed container or can be frozen. They can be tossed in warm honey when you are ready to serve them (if freezing make sure to thaw them completely first).

How long do they last?

Fried struffoli without honey can be stored in containers for 4-5 days or frozen. If they are tossed in honey and sprinkles they will keep well for up to 3 days but may start to soften.

A close up of struffoli Italian honey balls

More Italian Christmas recipes you might like

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Struffoli (Italian Honey Balls)

Struffoli or Italian Honey Balls are tiny balls of fried dough tossed in a delicious sticky honey sauce and decorated with festive sprinkles. It's such a fun and impressive Italian Christmas dessert that the whole family can get involved making!
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Resting time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Calories 364kcal
Author Emily Kemp

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 3 cups Tipo 00 or all-purpose flour (420g) spooned and leveled*
  • cup sugar (65g)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 3 large eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 zest of one orange
  • 2 tbsp dark rum
  • 4 tbsp melted butter (55g)
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • Vegetable oil for frying

For coating

  • 1 cup honey (300g)
  • Sprinkles

Instructions

  • Put all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt & orange zest) in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the middle and add the melted butter, eggs and rum.
  • Mix the ingredients together until it starts to come together then knead into a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
  • Once rested, cut the dough in half then cut each half into 3 equal pieces. One at a time roll each piece of dough into a long sausage shape about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick. Cut each log into small pieces roughly 1cm (1/2 inch) in size (just like making gnocchi but much smaller).
  • Roll each cut piece of dough into balls using the palms of your hands and place on a board or surface lightly dusted with flour so they don’t stick. Make sure they are in a single layer and not on top of each other.
  • Using a thermometer, heat the oil in a large pot to 375°F (190°C) at least 2-3 inches deep. Fry the struffoli in batches until golden brown (30-40 seconds). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
  • Once the struffoli have cooled, add the honey to a large pot (big enough to hold all of the struffoli) and heat it gently just until it becomes very liquidy, it will only take a few seconds.
  • Add the cooled struffoli and gently stir until they are thoroughly coated in the honey, let them soak up the honey for 2-3 minutes.
  • Arrange the struffoli in your desired shape (ring or mound) on a serving plate (see notes for tips) and once the honey has cooled sprinkle over your festive sprinkles.

Notes

  • Flour – although Italian 00 flour is typically used to make these regular all-purpose flour will also work! Make sure to spoon it into cups and level it with a knife if not weighing it with a kitchen scale.
  • Rolling out the dough – Don’t flour your surface to roll the dough into logs unless you really need to as it can make it much harder to roll out. There’s enough butter in the dough so it shouldn’t stick.
  • Shaping the dough – you can pinch small pieces of dough and roll them into balls rather than rolling out logs and cutting them but I find that it’s harder to keep them at an even size. Rolling and cutting the dough is very easy, just like making gnocchi but much smaller.
  • Frying – make sure you use a candy thermometer to heat your oil to the correct temperature. It makes things much easier, if your oil is too hot they will brown too easily and be raw in the middle.
  • After frying – make sure to drain the struffoli straight after frying on kitchen paper so any excess oil is absorbed.
  • Decorating – You can decorate the struffoli with any kind of sprinkles you like, some variations also decorate them with glacé cherries and almonds.
  • Honey coating – make sure to warm the honey very gently (it doesn’t have to be hot) just so it turns very liquidy, this makes it much easier to coat the dough balls. If you want to add in a splash of liqueur make sure you don’t add in too much (1-2 tbsp max) or it’ll thin the honey down too much and they won’t stick as easily.
  • Storage – the fried dough balls will keep well in airtight containers for 4-5 days or can be frozen then you can toss them in honey when you are ready to serve them.
  • Leftovers – prepared struffoli with honey will keep well for around 3 days.

Nutrition

Calories: 364kcal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 41mg | Sodium: 179mg | Potassium: 237mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 29g | Vitamin A: 226IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 2mg
Helpful Info for All Recipes
  • I always use extra virgin olive oil in all of my recipes unless stated otherwise
  • When I use canned or jarred tomatoes of any kind I always use this brand for the best results and flavour
  • All vegetables are medium sized unless stated otherwise
  • All recipes are tested and developed using a fan (convection) oven
  • Find out more about how nutrition is calculated here
  • Check out our must have Italian Pantry Staples here
  • You can also find all our Essential Kitchen Tools for Italian Cooking here
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