These Honey Balls are a popular dessert for a traditional Italian Christmas, Easter and all through the holidays.
This crunchy, sweet treat is fabulously festive and so easy to make from simple ingredients that you’ll have in your pantry!
This updated and improved recipe was first published on January 15, 2016.
Table of Contents
Why you’ll love this recipe
Of course you’ll love this recipe! Tasty deep fried dough balls smothered in a sweet honey mixture are super addictive. It’s so hard to stop at just one!
Right now, you’re probably thinking, what are honey balls? These tasty morsels are made of a simple pasta dough that is barely sweetened. Small balls are fried in hot oil then drained on paper towels before being coated in warm honey. When first fried they are slightly soft but over time the struffoli become more crunchy.
Italian honey balls are also known as struffoli or strufoli and originated in Naples but are now popular throughout southern Italy. In Calabria, where my mother is from, pignolata is a similar dessert. However instead of honey, pignolata consists of the fried dough balls coated in chocolate or lemon flavored icing. And in Abruzzo, this dessert is known as Cicerchiata.
There are lots of ways to serve these small cookies. I adore shaping them into a wreath for Christmas but piling the little balls up into a cone is also popular. If you want to make individual servings, why not pile honey balls into muffin papers or foil cups.
Just like cuccidati and crostoli, these cookies are a must-have Italian Christmas dessert in our house. While desserts like tiramisu and panna cotta appear year round, these Italian honey balls start making an appearance at the end of November and all through December. Plus we also love them for Easter!
Whether you call these struffoli, honey balls or just fried dough balls, your family and friends will polish these off in no time at all!
For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card bottom of the page.
The ingredients are so simple that I’m sure you’ll have these in your pantry. One thing you may be surprised about is that there is no baking powder in the dough even though the struffoli honey balls puff up light and airy.
- All Purpose Flour - You’ll just need regular flour for this recipe. If you want to use Italian 00, go ahead but otherwise you’ll be fine. This recipe will work out either way.
- Eggs - Just like when making homemade tagliatelle, I like to use free range eggs. The color of the yolks is just so vibrant! However, use whatever eggs you usually buy.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Just a little bit will make all the difference.
- Orange Zest - Wash the orange well and finely grate directly into the bowl catching all the natural, fragrant oils.
- White sugar - The dough needs only a spoonful but we’ll dissolve some sugar into the honey to create a thick coating.
- Salt - A pinch of salt is perfect in sweet dishes to bring out all the flavors
- Light Olive Oil - I prefer to fry in light olive oil but you can use sunflower or other mild oil.
- Honey - This is the predominant taste so choose a honey you like the flavor of.
If you like you can add a few extra flavorings to the dough and honey coating.
- Substitute lemon zest instead of the orange. Alternatively use both!
- Vanilla extract in either dough or honey coating is an option for a classic taste.
- I don’t mind adding a splash of limoncello or rum to the dough. You may need to add a little extra flour if the dough is too sticky after but that’s fine!
- Add sliced or slivered almonds when combining the balls with the warm honey.
This struffoli recipe usually requires deep frying the dough balls. However I find that a deep frying pan filled with about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of oil works just as well. It is helpful to have a second set of hands to roll the small balls. It’s fun to get the family involved.
- In a large mixing bowl mix together eggs, sugar, oil, orange zest and salt then gradually mix in the flour until a firm dough has formed.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or so. Wrap in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for about an hour.
- Cut the dough into 8 pieces and keep covered. Take one piece of dough and roll into a rope about 18 inches or 45 cm long. There is no need to flour the work surface. Flour will burn in the hot oil and leave a bitter taste.
- Cut into small pieces about ½ inch size which is just under 1.5cm or a little smaller than a marble. Repeat with all the dough. Set aside.
- Fry handfuls of struffoli in hot oil, stirring to separate the pieces and allowing them to become golden brown and puff up.
- Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and cool on the paper towel lined baking sheet to drain the excess oil. Repeat with all the dough.
- Place the honey and sugar in a wide frying pan or skillet. Heat to dissolve the sugar then bring to boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes until the sauce is glossy and thickens a little then add the honey balls.
- Stir and cook over low-medium heat for 5 minutes until all the honey balls are coated.
Remove from the heat and allow to stand for a few minutes to cool and thicken. Stir well.
Then pile on a serving plate and decorate with colored sprinkles. You can also add maraschino cherries for extra festive cheer!
Tips for success and FAQ’s
An important step not to miss in this recipe is resting the dough. If the dough is not properly rested, you’ll find yourself in a tug of war with it as the dough shrinks back and refuses to roll out. If this is happening, rewrap the dough and set it aside for another 20 minutes then try again.
Also the dough balls need to be small - a little smaller than a marble. Even though there is no baking powder in this recipe, the dough will puff and swell in the hot oil.
Having the oil at the correct temperature is the key to light and not greasy struffoli honey balls. If it’s too cold, the dough absorbs the oil. If it’s too hot, the small balls will darken and burn. Plus, don’t forget to drain well on paper towels to remove the excess oil!
Use an instant read candy or meat thermometer to make sure the oil is at the correct temperature.
Once set the coating on the Italian honey balls can be quite hard especially if the honey mixture is overcooked. The coating will melt and soften the next day and the balls become more crunchy. So make these the day before you want to eat them!
You can freeze the deep fried dough balls before coating. Once fried and cooled, pile into a container with a good seal. Store in the freezer for up to 2 months. When ready to prepare, allow to thaw in the container (don’t open it until the dough balls are thawed and at room temperature) then proceed with the recipe.
Struffoli Honey Balls will keep for at least 5 days. The flavor improves on standing as the honey is absorbed and the honey balls become even crunchier. If the room temperature is cool there is no need to refrigerate but keep well covered. Otherwise store leftovers in the fridge.
I haven’t actually tried to fry these in the airfryer. However, a friend says they have and the recipe has worked well. You may need to experiment if you want to take this option.
Once coated in the warm honey mixture, arrange the struffoli on a serving platter. Piling them up in a mound like a pyramid is popular and looks like a Christmas struffoli tree.
I really like to shape the honey balls into a wreath. To do this, wrap a glass in non-stick, parchment paper and place in the middle of a serving platter. Pile the struffoli honey balls evenly around the glass, creating a thick wreath shape. When the honey has set, remove the glass and carefully remove the paper. Decorate as you like.
Alternatively, pile coated honey balls into festive foil muffin cups or any small bowls. This is good for gift giving. Just wrap in cellophane and tie with a beautiful ribbon!
To eat Italian honey balls, simply pluck off with your fingers or use a spoon or butter knife to prise off.
More Italian Christmas Desserts
Panforte - A chewy confection full of nuts and fruit originating in Tuscany.
Italian Wedding Cookies - These nutty, melt in your mouth cookies are not just for weddings as the name might suggest!
Chocolate Salami - There’s no meat in this salami, just chocolate, nuts and cookies. The best part is that this is a no-bake recipe!
Sicilian Cheesecake - Light but luxurious, this cheesecake is ricotta based and super easy to make.
Mascarpone Cream - An eggless, creamy topping which is popular served with panettone or pandoro in Italy. It’s also the perfect topping for any pie or cake.
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Honey Balls Recipe
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- pinch salt
- 1 orange
- 2 ½ cups all purpose (plain) flour
- Light olive oil for frying
- 1 cup honey
- ¼ cup sugar
- colored sprinkles to decorate
- In a bowl mix together eggs, sugar, oil and salt. Grate the orange zest directly into the bowl to catch all the fragrant oils. You won't need the flesh of the orange.
- Slowly mix in the flour until a firm dough has formed. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or so.
- Wrap in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for about an hour.
- Cut the dough into 8 pieces and keep covered.
- Take one piece of dough and roll into a rope about 18 inches (45cm) long.
- Cut into small pieces about ½ inch lengths (just under 1.5cm) or slightly small than a marble.
- Repeat with all the dough. Set aside and heat the light olive oil.
- I just used a deep frying pan filled with about 1 inch (2.5cm) of oil.
- Heat the oil to 375°F/180°C. Prepare a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
- When the oil is ready fry handfuls of the struffoli, stirring to separate the pieces and allowing them to brown and puff up.
- Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on the paper towel to remove excess oil. Repeat with all the dough.
To make the honey sauce and coat the dough balls
- Place the honey and sugar in a wide frying pan or skillet.
- Heat to dissolve the sugar then bring to boil.
- Simmer for 3-5 minutes until the sauce is glossy and thickens a little.
- Add the fried dough balls stir and cook over low-medium heat for 5 minutes until all the honey balls are coated.
- Remove from the heat and allow to stand for a few minutes to cool and thicken. Stir well. At first the honey balls are a little soft but the next day or so they'll become more crunchy and the glaze will soften.
- Then pile on a serving plate and decorate with colored spinkles.
- Rest the dough for 1 hour.
- Make the balls small because they'll puff in the oil
- Have the oil at the correct temperature
- Use an instant read candy or meat thermometer to make sure the oil is at the correct temperature.
- Nutritional information does not include oil absorbed during frying as this depends on how hot the oil is and how much oil in absorbed.
Nutritional Information Per Serving
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.