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Graffe Napoletane

Graffe Napoletane are deliciously soft, fried donuts covered in sugar that hide a secret to their lightness. 

If you want fluffy, tasty Italian donuts that aren’t oily, you’ve come to the right place!

Graffe Napoletane on kitchen paper with more graffe in the background.
Soft and tender Italian Donuts.

We Italians love fried dough. Whether it’s savory like pizza fritta or sweet like these delicious ricotta Sfingi or leavened Frittelle with raisins, they’re all good! But these are particularly soft and light because of a secret ingredient – cooked mashed potato. The starch in mashed potatoes add moisture to the dough keeping it soft and tender.

Graffe Napoletane are a traditional fried treat eaten during Carnevale, the Italian celebration before the restrictions of Lent. While still typically a Carnevale pastry, these Italian donuts can be found all year round in Naples. Their popularity has spread throughout Italy where they are known by different names depending on the region.

What is the history of Italian donuts?

Italian donuts like Graffe Napoletane have been traced back to ancient Roman times when fried dough was popular. Today there are many different types of donuts in Italy depending on the region. Influence from nearby Austria and Germany has also shaped donuts in Italy.

Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Super soft – adding mashed potatoes does wonders to this dough making them light, fluffy, and irresistible.
  • Homemade – the ability to make donuts at home is a key factor for me as I am sure it is for you. The time and effort is so well rewarded with the result. You know everything that goes into these Graffe Napoletane.
  • Italian Tradition – making this recipe will bring back all those wonderful Italian family memories of being gathered around the table and enjoying good food. Or create a new memory for your family when you serve these tasty Italian potato donuts.

Ingredients

Ingredients as in the recipe viewed from above.
  • Potatoes – Use a floury, starchy potato like russet, Sebago or similar. Look for a potato that’s good for mashing, not a waxy variety.
  • Dry Ingredients – Just basic pantry ingredients; regular all purpose flour, some granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt.
  • Wet Ingredients – Eggs and milk add moisture. I prefer whole dairy milk but use what you have.
  • Butter – Unsalted butter is what I used but use whatever you have 
  • Active dry yeast – You’ll find this in the baking aisle in probably all supermarkets. I think it’s the easiest way to use yeast.
  • Lemon zest, orange zest, and vanilla extract – These flavorings should be the best and freshest for best results.

See recipe card for quantities.

Instructions

Begin by preparing the predough which is a little bit of flour, milk and yeast. It needs to be set aside for 1 hour.

Cooked riced potatoes on a wooden board.

Boil the potatoes then pass through a ricer or mash with a fork until smooth.

Soft dough wrapped around the dough hook of an electric mixer.

Mix the dough in an electric mixer as in the recipe below until smooth and elastic.

Soft dough being folded and kneaded by hand.

On an oiled surface, fold the dough several times to strengthen it.

Puffed up dough in a stainless steel bowl.

Return dough to large mixing bowl and allow to rise until doubled or tripled.

Dough balls on a wooden surface with a rope of dough being rolled by hand.

Divide the dough into balls and roll each into a rope.

Dough in the shape of a doughnut on a baking sheet.

Shape the dough rope by folding the ends over themselves and set aside to rise.

Risen doughnut floating in hot oil.

Lower the risen donuts into hot oil to fry.

Italian Donut being coated in sugar.

When Italian donuts are golden brown and cooked through, coat while still hot in granulated sugar.

Hint: Don’t overcrowd when frying because the temperature goes down. Just 1 or 2 at a time depending on the size of the pan.

Substitutions

  • Lemon and orange zest – instead of fresh citrus zest, use a few drops of lemon oil and orange oil.
  • Vanilla Extract – scrape the seeds from a split vanilla pod to use instead of the vanilla extract.
  • Rum flavored – instead of lemon and orange zest add one or two teaspoons of rum extract.

Variations

  • Cinnamon Sugar – use cinnamon sugar instead of plain sugar to coat the graffe. To make cinnamon sugar, just mix ground cinnamon into the sugar to your liking.
  • Shape – graffe can be made in different shapes like a classic ring shape, twisted, or balls.
  • Chocolate – Drizzle melted chocolate over the donuts after frying.

Equipment

A large deep frying pan or deep fryer is essential for this graffe recipe.

Storage

Graffe are best eaten fresh immediately after frying. However, using this graffe recipe means that these are also good the day after thanks to the addition of potatoes which makes the dough very soft and tender.

Top tip

Overhead view of Italian donuts on a white rectangle plate with two on the side on kitchen towel.
  • Don’t allow the potatoes to become completely cold. Adding the potatoes while still warm helps the rising process. 
  • Unlike many yeast doughs, graffe dough doesn’t require heavy kneading. Knead only until smooth and elastic.
  • The rising times may vary depending on the temperature in your home. Watch the dough ensuring that the first rise at least doubles. It can even triple in size.
  • Avoid adding extra flour which can cause the dough to become dry. Use oil to stop the dough from sticking when shaping.
  • Have the oil at the correct temperature and don’t crowd the pan with donuts. Depending on the size of your pan only add one or two.
  • Only flip the graffe once. Flipping them over in the oil causes the temperature to drop making the graffe oily.
  • Drain on kitchen paper towels and while hot toss in granulated sugar.

FAQ

How does potato make doughnuts soft and fluffy?

Adding potato to doughnuts increases the starch content in the dough. It’s the starch that dictates how much liquid the dough can hold. So it’s pretty simple when you think about it this way – more starch equals more liquid and more liquid means a soft and moist texture plus a longer-lasting doughnut.

What are Italian donuts called?

Italian donuts are known by many names and there are many varieties. These Graffe Napoletane have a hole in the middle and are flavored with citrus and vanilla while sfingi are Sicilian ricotta donuts and frittelle are raisin, studded donuts which originated in the area’s of Trieste and Venice. There are also filled bomboloni, zeppole and grispelli just to name a few more.

Are donuts popular in Italy?

Donuts are very popular in Italy as you can see from the varieties that I have mentioned above. My favorite memory is in Southern Italy with my mother on a Sunday just before dinner when the baker walked down the street shouting to announce his fresh pastries. The donuts he sold were so tasty and such a treat!

Serving Suggestions

Potato Donuts broken in half to show inside and more donuts in the background.

Serve these Graffe Napoletane with strawberry jam or a spread like Nutella for Christmas, Easter, or any special occasion. While these are delicious for breakfast, why not create a dessert board including some Chocolate Pastry Puffs and fresh fruit?

Decadent Italian Hot Chocolate or Baileys Hot Chocolate are the ideal drink to accompany these tender Graffe Napoletane.

Graffe Napoletane on kitchen paper with more graffe in the background.

Graffe Recipe

These decadent Graffe Napoletane are fluffy, tender donuts from southern Italy and are popular for Carnevale. Mashed potato in the dough creates a moist donuts that also good the next day!
5 from 38 votes
Print Pin Review
Prep Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Rising Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Servings:12 Graffe
Author: Marcellina

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces (283 grams) potatoes See Note 1
  • 3 ⅔ cup (450 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 whole eggs
  • ½ cup (120 mls) whole milk
  • 7 g (1 sachet) active dry yeast
  • Finely grated zest of one lemon
  • Finely grated zest of one orange
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces (60 grams) butter cool room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 6 cups peanut oil or sunflower oil
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar, extra for coating

Instructions

Predough

  • First prepare the predough. Mix together ⅔ cup flour with warm milk and yeast in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour.

Potatoes

  • In a medium saucepan, cover the whole unpeeled potatoes with cold water. Cover with a lid, set over high heat, and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook until tender approx 15 minutes.
  • Peel, pass through a ricer and allow to cool to warm. You'll need about 8 ounces of mashed potatoes. By this time the predough should be ready.

Graffe Dough

  • Transfer the predough to the bowl of a stand mixer and add the eggs. Mix using the dough hook until combined.
  • Add the warm mashed potatoes, remaining flour, sugar, lemon and orange zest and vanilla extract and continue to mix until the dough comes together.
  • Add the butter a little at a time alternating with the salt.
  • Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  • Scrape the dough out onto an oiled work surface and fold the outer edges into the middle. Make about 6-8 folds. Wash out the stand mixer bowl and lightly oil. Place the dough in seam side down.
  • Leave it to rise for 2 hours until double or tripled in volume.
  • Turn out onto a lightly oiled surface and cut 12 pieces of 2½ ounces (70 grams) each. Form the shape and set aside on baking paper to rise until doubled about 30 minutes. Roll at length to about 8 inches then make the shape.

To fry

  • Have ready a plate lined with several layers of kitchen paper towels, and a wire rack set over a baking sheet (to catch any sugary mess).
  • Also add half of the granulated sugar to a shallow bowl. Use just half of the sugar because it will become oily. This way you can add or replace the sugar regularly.
  • Cut the baking paper around each graffe. The graffe together with the baking paper can go straight into the hot oil.
  • Pour the oil into large saucepan and place over medium high heat until the temperature reaches 356ºF – 374ºF (180ºC/190ºC).
  • Lift the paper with one graffe on it and lower into the hot oil. As the graffe cooks the paper will float loose. Use tongs to remove the paper.
  • Fry until golden brown and cooked through – turning just once. Each side will take one or two minutes. Only add one or two graffe at a time
  • When browned and cooked through, use two forks to carefully remove the graffe from the hot oil and onto the paper towel lined plate to drain for 30 seconds.
  • Then toss in sugar while hot otherwise the sugar won’t stick.
  • Set the sugar coated graffe on the wire rack to cool.
  • Serve freshly made.

Notes

  1. Two medium potatoes are usually the right weight.
Tips for Success
  • Use the potatoes while still warm but not hot to help activate the yeast.
  • Only knead until smooth and elastic but no more.
  • Rising times may vary depending on the temperature in your house. 
  • Avoid adding extra flour to the dough.
  • Use a candy thermometer to ensure the oil is at the correct temperature.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan and only flip the graffe once.
Read above for more information.
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Nutritional Estimate Per Serving

Calories: 378kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 39mg | Sodium: 241mg | Potassium: 172mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 174IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 27mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.

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