This easy struffoli recipe, also known as honey balls, are a simple Italian dessert. Balls of sweet dough are fried until crispy and tossed in a honey sauce and decorated with sprinkles.
Italian honey balls or struffoli are a festive Neapolitan dessert that are most often made during Christmas. This traditional dessert is also known by other names around other different regions in Italy, such as pignolata, cicerchiata or turdilli.
The sweet dough is rolled into marble sized pieces and fried. Then the crispy fried balls are tossed in a sweet honey sauce and decorated for the holiday season.
My recipe for Italian honey balls is adapted from the struffoli recipe from Giada De Laurentiis and one that is now a tradition that is always on our holiday table.
🍯 Ingredient notes
- Sweet Dough - The dough for the honey balls are formed with basic ingredients that makes a sticky dough that is flavored with orange zest and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Lemon zest or anise can also be added for additional flavor.
- Honey Sauce - After frying, the crispy balls are tossed with a sweet sauce made from honey, orange juice and sugar. As the honey sauce dries, it sets around the balls to make a sweet coating.
📋 Substitutions and variations
- Wine - A bit of white wine is added to the dough to activate the baking powder and add flavor. Any dry white wine or cooking wine may be used. If you prefer to not cook with wine or don't have any, a bit of orange juice or lemon juice may be added instead.
- Toppings - These struffoli are simply topped with rainbow colored nonpareil sprinkles. Red and green colored sprinkles, candied fruit, maraschino cherries or nuts would also be great toppings.
- Occasion - While struffoli is typically a dessert served around the Christmas holiday, you can certainly serve them during other holidays and special occasions decorated for the occasion.
- Serving - The struffoli can be shaped around a glass to form a wreath as pictured. They can also be formed into a cone shape like a Christmas tree or placed in cupcake liners for individual servings.
🥣 Step by step instructions
First, pulse the all purpose flour, orange zest, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a food processor. Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, while pulsing, until a crumbly mixture forms.
Add the eggs and wine and mix the ingredients together until a sticky dough is formed. Scrape the dough out of the food processor and onto a piece of plastic. Wrap up tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
After chilling, turn the soft dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut it into 8 equal pieces and roll each piece out into a long strip. Then, cut the strip into small pieces that are one half to one inch in length.
Roll each of these pieces into small balls the size of marbles and toss lightly with flour to prevent sticking. Fry the balls, working in batches, in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Then, remove them with a slotted spoon and let the balls drain on paper towels.
Once all of the balls are fried, melt the honey, orange juice and sugar in a pot over medium low heat. Pour the honey sauce over the fried dough balls in a large mixing bowl and toss to coat.
Spray a cake stand or serving plate with baking spray as well as a glass. Place the glass in the middle of the stand and pour the honey coated balls onto the stand around the glass.
Sprinkle the balls with the rainbow sprinkles and then let them cool completely and dry for 2 hours before removing the glass.
If you ever don't recognize a tool or skill that I mention, be sure to look it up in the Glossary of Cooking Terms and Definitions for more information.
⭐ Expert tips
- The dough will be sticky after mixing it together but will come together after chilling. A bit of flour can be added when you are rolling the dough so you can cut and shape the balls without it sticking to your hands.
- Roll and cut the dough into similar sized strips and pieces. You want the balls to be the size of marbles. Shaping and cutting the dough into similar sized pieces will also make sure they fry evenly.
- Use an infrared thermometer to easily check the oil temperature to make sure it doesn't get too hot or too cool.
- Gently roll the balls around in the hot oil, using a spoon, as they are frying to make sure they brown evenly on all sides.
- Let the sugar dissolve completely in the honey, but don't let it boil or the mixture will become too hard to toss with the balls.
- After warming the honey mixture, use it immediately to toss with the balls or it will start to dry and become too sticky.
- Make sure to let the struffoli completely set so it stays in the wreath shape after removing the glass.
⏲️ Make ahead instructions
This easy struffoli recipe is great to make ahead. The struffoli dough can be made and chilled in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. The struffoli dough balls can be fried up to 3 days ahead of time. Let them cool completely before storing them at room temperature in an airtight container.
When you are ready to serve them, make the honey sauce and then toss it with the balls and shape onto your desired serving platter.
🥡 Storage suggestions
Leftover struffoli will keep for about 3-4 days and should be stored covered or wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature.
🍰 More Italian dessert recipes
If you loved this easy struffoli recipe, check out these other Italian desserts that I know you will love too!
Easy Struffoli Recipe (Italian Honey Balls)
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon orange zest approximately 1 large orange
- 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 pinch ground cinnamon
- 1 pinch ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ stick unsalted butter room temperature
- 3 large eggs
- 1 Tablespoon dry white wine
- 3 cups vegetable oil
- Combine the flour, orange zest, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine.
- Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition until a crumbly mixture forms.
- Add the eggs and white wine and mix until a sticky dough is formed. Scrape down the sides and pulse a few more times to make sure everything is incorporated.
- Scrape the mixture out of the food processor and onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap up the dough tightly and place in the refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- After the dough is done chilling, add the oil to a medium sized pot so there is about 2 inches of oil. Heat over medium heat on the stovetop to 350˚.
- While the oil is heating, unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces and roll out each piece into a long strip that is approximately one inch in diameter. If the dough starts to stick, sprinkle with a little bit of flour.
- Cut each of the strips into pieces that are approximately ½ - 1 inch in length and then roll all of the pieces into small balls that are about the size of marbles.
- Fry the dough ball in batches, rolling them around, for about 1-2 minutes until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on paper towels.
- Once all of the balls are fried, heat the honey, sugar and orange juice in a small pot over medium low heat. Do not let the mixture boil, but let the sugar completely dissolve.
- Place the fried dough balls into a large bowl and pour the honey mixture over the top. Use a rubber spatula to toss the balls so they are all evenly coated in the honey mixture.
- Place a glass in the middle of a cake stand or round serving platter. Spray both the glass and top of the stand with baking spray or grease with butter.
- Pour the honey coated balls on the platter around the glass to form a wreath and then sprinkle with the rainbow colored sprinkles.
- Let the honey balls cool completely for at least 2 hours before removing the glass for serving.
- Roll and cut the dough into similar sized pieces so they fry evenly.
- Use an infrared thermometer to monitor the oil temperature.
- Gently roll the balls around while they are frying so they brown evenly.
- Use the honey mixture immediately or it will start to set and become too sticky.
- Let the struffoli completely dry so it stays in the shape after removing the glass.
Substitutions and Variations
- Flavor - Add lemon zest or anise for additional flavor.
- Wine - Any dry white wine or cooking wine may be used. Orange juice or lemon juice may be also used instead.
- Toppings - Red and green colored sprinkles, candied fruit, maraschino cherries or nuts would also be great toppings.
- Occasion - Serve these during other holidays and special occasions decorated for the occasion.
- Serving - Form struffoli balls into a cone shape like a Christmas tree or place in cupcake liners for individual servings.