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Meet the Bite-Sized Italian Cousin to the Doughnut Hole

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Fluffy, sweet bites, via Tuscany
Fluffy, sweet bites, via Tuscany Photo by Emiko Davies

On Tuscan beaches in the middle of the summer, while bathers snoozed in the late afternoon sun, it was once common to be woken by the sing-song of someone carrying a large wooden tray tied to his neck filled with bomboloni, freshly deep-fried rounds of pillowy, yeasted dough. Essentially the Tuscan cousin of the doughnut, minus the hole, bomboloni are usually empty (sometimes filled with custard or jelly) and simply covered with a heavy-handed dusting of superfine or powdered sugar.

They’re the sort of thing you’d find at every country fair, market, or festival around the region, freshly deep-fried from the back of a van. Most pastry shops and bars have them too, making them a rather tempting breakfast companion with your morning cappuccino.

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Bomboloni's smaller counterparts, bomboloncini (“little bomboloni”) are bite-sized, much like doughnut holes, and often forego a filling. But you can pump these little morsels full of custard, cream, or jam as well—a piping bag is handy for this. Unlike many bomboloni recipes, which are similar to German krapfen, a dough enriched with egg yolks and milk, Tuscany's version is poorer. It’s more like a very soft, slightly sweetened bread dough that is then deep fried in vegetable oil. You could even make these vegan and dairy-free by substituting the tablespoon of butter with olive oil.

Tuscan bomboloncini are best served hot
Tuscan bomboloncini are best served hot Photo by Emiko Davies

A few tips

  • When leaving the dough to rise, it’s important that they have a warm place. If it’s winter and your kitchen is cold, you can even warm up the oven a little, turn it off, then place the bowl in the warmed oven.
  • If you don’t have an oil thermometer on hand to test the oil temperature, throw a cube of bread into the oil—it should go golden in about 15 seconds. Any sooner, it’s too hot, any longer, it’s not hot enough.
  • Use a smaller saucepan and enough vegetable oil so that the bomboloni float and puff up rather than forming flat bottoms.
  • The bomboloni must be very hot for the sugar to stick to them evenly. Don't wait too long between draining them from the oil and rolling them in a bowl of sugar.
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Bomboloncini (Italian doughnut holes)

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Makes 16-18 bomboloncini
  • 2 ½ teaspoons (7 grams) dry instant yeast
  • 1 ½ cups plus 2 ½ tablespoons (200 gr) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) of lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup (50 gr) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (30 gr) melted butter
  • 1 pinch salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup (100 gr) superfine sugar
  • vegetable oil for frying
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Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, doughnuts, bomboloncini, bomboloni, Tuscan