Struffoli (Italian Honey Ball Cookies)

November 26, 2014
4 Ratings
  • Makes about 2 pounds of dough
Author Notes

For Italian-Americans, the Christmas season is a serious study in food traditions. For years, our family has dedicated Christmas Eve morning to slicing thin flounder filets, frying greasy platefuls of pizza fritte, and piling a bounty of assorted shellfish into a stockpot bubbling with a special, spicy tomato sauce reserved especially for the holiday.

Among our many holiday food traditions is struffoli, a classic cookie common in southern Italy and typically served during the Christmas season. I like to think of struffoli, which are about the size of marbles or hazelnuts, as tiny Christmas fritters. When placed into a saucepan filled with hot oil, the citrusy dough puffs up into rustic golden balls that have crunchy exteriors but warm, soft interiors. Once fried, the small, bite-sized cookies are drenched in a sweet honey glaze and decorated with colorful sprinkles or nonpareils.

Throughout my childhood, my grandmother often painstakingly assembled her struffoli into a lavish wreath or cone shape, which she unveiled at the end of our holiday meal. I admit that I lack her patience in the presentation department and instead, I often choose to simply pour a fresh batch of my struffoli into the largest serving bowl I can find. Regardless of how you choose to present them, these light, sweet cookies will become a welcome new tradition at your holiday spread. —Angela Brown

What You'll Need
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • Zest from 1 orange
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • 2 cups honey
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups nonpareils
  1. Add the eggs, flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla, salt, and citrus zest to a large bowl. Mix by hand until the mixture forms a sticky dough. Form the dough into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough ball for 2 to 3 minutes. Cut the dough into six equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece into long, thin ropes, about 1/2-inch thick. Cut off 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces of each dough rope and roll each one into a small ball shape (don’t worry about making them perfect; imperfect shapes work perfectly fine here).
  2. Pour enough oil into a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan to fill it about one third of the way. Heat the oil to 350° F. Meanwhile, prepare a dish lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. When the oil reaches the desired temperature, carefully drop in the dough balls in small batches and fry until they puff up and become golden brown on all sides. Using a metal spider, carefully remove the fried dough and transfer to the paper towel-lined dish. Continue until all dough balls are fried.
  3. While the dough balls fry, add the honey and the remaining teaspoon of vanilla to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir occasionally and remove from heat once the honey reaches a syrup-like consistency, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the still-warm fried dough balls to a large bowl. Pour the hot honey glaze and the nonpareils into the bowl and mix until incorporated. The struffoli can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container for 2 days.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • creamtea
  • Franca
  • Lorraine Fina Stevenski
    Lorraine Fina Stevenski
  • Florence Sciara Simpson
    Florence Sciara Simpson
Angela Brown is a food blogger, freelance writer, and co-owner of the NYC sandwich company, Mayhem & Stout.

13 Reviews

Becca November 19, 2023
Can't wait to try this recipe! My grandmother made this every Christmas but we called it Bees (or maybe beads?) & honey.
Jo P. October 29, 2017
Grandma always called them pinolatties (not sure on spelling).
Lauri December 8, 2017
That's the siciliano way 😉
Florence S. October 9, 2018
Florence S. October 9, 2018
Syrup like is tricky, too hot and turns out like hard candy and can't bite cookie, not hot enough and doesn't stick and need to dip twice. Wish I knew of easier way to test the honey
Maggie January 2, 2017
We used to put citron in ours, but none of the kids liked it so we stopped using it. Still delicious without it. My favorite part of Christmas!
creamtea December 17, 2015
Fascinating! Eastern European Jews make a similar dish for Rosh Hashanah, Teiglach (Teig=dough). Dough balls fried and simmered in honey mounded into a pyramid shape, often with nuts and dried fruit added. So I did a little research; apparently both are descended from an ancient Roman dessert adapted by Sephardic Jews of Italy and Spain and probably brought to Eastern Europe in aftermath of the Inquisition: I am wondering if croquembouche is another descendant of this ancient dish.
Franca December 8, 2014
My mother made these every year, my sister and I knew it was Christmas. :)
Corinne December 6, 2014
Ours never had citron either. Maybe it's regional.
Lorraine F. December 6, 2014
Angela: About 50 years ago, I remember the Struffoli piled high for the Holidays ready to give a scoop for Christmas cheer. No citron in ours either. Thanks for the memories.
Lorraine December 6, 2014
Where's the citron? Can't have strufoli without the citron.
Corinne December 5, 2014
They're delicious but a lot of work!
Gloria K. April 2, 2015
I,m so grateful for the receipt,my parents are gone now,and I sure do miss them and there gift of strufoli,we also had them at Easter.Does anyone have any ideas how to keep them fresh?