Struffoli are a Neopolitan dessert made with tiny dough balls that are deep-fried until golden, tossed with honey, and topped with any combination of nonpareils, candied fruit, or slivered almonds. Struffoli is most popular around Easter and Christmas but makes a tasty treat at any time!
Struffoli, also known as cicerchiata, or honey balls, are one of our favorite desserts, especially around the holidays.
These tiny golden balls of fried dough tossed with honey and sprinkles are usually piled high on a platter and served with other holiday favorites, like Pastiera Napoletana (for Easter) or cuccidati (for Christmas).
Struffoli are loaded with wonderful citrus flavor and despite being bathed in orange juice and honey, are not overly sweet.
They are similar to the Sicilian dessert pignolata which are honey balls with pinenuts, and the Greek dessert, loukoumades, which are slightly larger dough balls also tossed with honey.
No matter what you call them, they are delicious!
How to make struffoli
First, make the dough
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- In a medium-sized bowl beat 6 large eggs and set aside. Melt 10 tablespoons of butter and set aside. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment add 4 cups (500g) of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/2 cup (120g) of granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of orange zest. Mix on low speed until combined.
- Add the beaten eggs, melted butter, 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons of orange liqueur and mix on low speed until combined, about 60-120 seconds.
- Remove the dough from the bowl, place it on a floured work surface, and knead for a few seconds until a rough dough is formed.
- Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes before using.
Next, fry them up
- After 30 minutes, cut and divide the dough ball into 4 equal sections, then cut each one in half so you have a total of 8 sections.
- Roll a section into a 1/2-inch thick rope.
- Repeat the process for all 8 sections. Note: Use only a bit of extra flour since you will want the dough to remain tacky to make it easier to roll in the steps below.
- Using a pastry cutter or a thin sharp knife, cut the ropes into 1/2-inch squares. To save time, cut multiple ropes at once as pictured above.
- Roll each square into a ball and place them on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Note: you do not have to roll the squares into balls. If you prefer to leave them as squares, that’s completely fine and much easier!
- Fill a large heavy pot with approximately 7 cups of vegetable oil, or enough to fill the pot about 3 inches high. Heat the oil until the temperature reaches 360f. Begin to fry the balls about 15-20 at a time until golden brown, about 45-60 seconds. Be careful to not overcrowd the pot.
- Remove the struffoli from the pot and place them on a paper towel-lined baking sheet or wire rack to drain.
- To a large saucepan over low heat, add 1 1/2 cups of honey and a 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice. Heat the mixture on low and add about a 1/4 of the struffoli to the pot and baste for about 1 minute.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the struffoli and place them on a platter. Repeat the process for the remaining struffoli, arranging them in a mountain shape, or wreath.
- Once plated, drizzle more of the honey mixture on top of the struffoli and sprinkle with nonpareils, and if desired, candied fruit and sliced or slivered almonds. Enjoy!
- Dough balls. While we did take time to shape our dough into tiny balls, you can opt to not roll them at all. They will be just as good if shaped as tiny squares or rectangles. It all depends on how you want them to look. And since we’re talking about the balls, ours should have been even smaller. This recipe made about 150 tiny dough balls, but often you will see commercially sold struffoli that are even smaller. If you got the time, make them tiny. About the size of a chickpea to be exact.
- Frying. As with other recipes that require deep frying, such as zeppole, we recommend using a candy or oil thermometer to ensure that the oil reaches the proper temperature.
- Honey. This recipe uses a lot of honey, 1 1/2 cups worth. You actually might need even more. You’ll likely save money if you can purchase the honey from a store like Costco or BJ’s.
- Shapes. Struffoli can be presented in a variety of different ways. We think a volcano-shaped pile looks beautiful, but you can shape into a wreath as well. To make a wreath the easy way, place a glass in the center of a platter then pile the balls around it and remove once the honey hardens up and they set.
- Toppings. We topped ours with nonpareil sprinkles, dried fruit, and slivered almonds. Feel free to decorate with any combination of these. Even drizzled chocolate and powdered sugar are great on struffoli.
More traditional Italian desserts
- Cannoli – crisp pastry shells filled with sweet ricotta-cinnamon cream and topped with chocolate chips, pistachio, or candied orange peel.
- Reginelle – sesame seed-covered biscuits with a hint of lemon.
- Pignoli cookies – sweet almond paste cookies studded with pignoli and dusted with powdered sugar.
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- 4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) sugar
- 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or any orange liqueur
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 10 tablespoons butter melted
- 6 large eggs beaten
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 7 cups vegetable oil enough for frying
For the honey glaze and toppings
- 1 1/2 cups honey
- 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- colored nonpareils
- candied fruit optional
- slivered almonds optional
- Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and lemon and orange zest in a stand mixer and combine with the paddle attachment.
- Add the beaten eggs, melted butter, vanilla, and, and orange liqueur and mix until combined (about 60 seconds). Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for a few seconds until a rough dough is formed. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes before using.
- After 30 minutes cut and divide the dough into 4 equal sections. Roll each section into a rope about a 1/2-inch thick. Cut the rope into small 1/2-inch squares then roll them gently into balls. Place the balls on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
- Set the balls aside and heat vegetable oil in large heavy pot. Pour the oil approximately 3-inches high and use an oil thermometer and heat to 360f.
- Fry the struffoli about 15 at a time until golden brown. Don't overcrowd the pot. They will only take about 45 seconds per batch. Remove the cooked struffoli to a paper towel lined baking sheet or wire rack.
- Heat the honey and orange juice in a large saucepan over low heat. Add a 1/4 of the struffoli to the pot and baste for about 1 minute. Place the struffoli on a platter or arrange them in a wreath shape. Repeat for next batches then drizzle more of the reserved honey on top of the plated struffoli.
- Sprinkle the nonpareils onto the struffoli along with the optional candied fruit and almonds. Enjoy!
- You 100% don't have to roll the cut sections into balls. It is far quicker and easier to just fry them as small squares.
- Get creative with the toppings. In addition to candied fruit, slivered almonds, and colored nonpareils, drizzled chocolate or powdered sugar are both great too!
- Leftovers can be saved for up 4 days.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.