Struffoli have a sweet citrus flavor, a sticky honey glaze, a crispy exterior, and the softest center imaginable… I can’t think of anything that would make this Italian Christmas dessert recipe any more delicious than it already is! Pop these tasty honey balls in your mouth one by one and watch them disappear like magic!!
And the wreath shape is really something special. Check out the video in this post for some guidance and help on getting it just right!
Just when you thought Italian desserts couldn’t get any tastier!
This sweet treat is traditionally enjoyed during the holiday season, with bright orange flavoring and a colorful sprinkle topping.
There’s a little technique involved, but this Italian struffoli recipe is one worth mastering!
While we’re on the topic of Italian Christmas dessert recipes… Have you tried my homemade cannoli filling and shells? I seriously cannot recommend them enough!
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
- Orange Zest – Organic, unwaxed, thick-skinned oranges are the best for zest! California Navals are really good, and Valencia are almost tied for first place.
If you’re unsure as to whether or not they’re waxed or organic, just give the skins a good scrub before zesting.
- Vegetable Oil – Peanut oil is another great option for frying dough, as is refined canola oil. But plain ol’ vegetable oil will get the job done just fine!
- Honey – I’ll always advocate for fresh, local honey. While raw honey is usually good, it isn’t as sticky as regular.
So your average pure honey is good to use in our struffoli recipe!
- Orange Juice – No pulp!! If you want sticky sweetness and a distinct citrus taste, then grocery store orange juice is perfectly fine to use.
And if you want to juice your own? Power to you – just get that pulp out!
- Sprinkles – What sprinkles go well with struffoli you ask? Well, nonpareils are most common – rainbow colored, to be exact.
But you can use sprinkles of any size, shape, and color!
Tips for Frying and Perfecting Our Italian Christmas Dessert
- A Messy Process – Working with dough isn’t exactly neat, and this dough is especially sticky and messy!
Make things easier with a bit of flour on your hands and your work surface. And if it’s still sticking all over the place, it may need more flour in the dough.
- Don’t Overmix! Overkneading will guarantee tough dough – a tragedy for these soft little dough balls!!
You want to knead until the texture is tacky rather than sticky.
- Keep the Oil Hot – Oil that isn’t hot enough will seep into the dough balls, weighing them down and ruining the texture.
350°F is our magic number – check between batches to make sure the oil is still hot enough.
- Add Some Holiday Cheer! Don’t limit yourself to just sprinkles – a chocolate drizzle, almonds or walnuts, a scattering of candied cherries, and even extra grated orange peel will wow your holiday guests and level up their holiday spirit in one fell swoop!
Serving & Storing
Nothing beats the taste of freshly fried dough! After a couple of hours, these sticky Italian honey balls are soft, crisp, and so tasty.
You can store them in an airtight container for a couple of days, but the texture really starts to get lost after sitting overnight. So try to eat them the day of!
Do not refrigerate!! They’ll get hard and absolutely unappetizing.
Your best prep-ahead method would be to fry the dough ahead of time and add the glaze afterward. But you still don’t want to refrigerate — leave them on the counter!
The traditional struffoli recipe was imagined somewhere in Naples and has since spread all throughout Italy to be enjoyed and shared during Christmas.
If you want to get really into the thick of it… Some think the recipe originated in Greece! But you didn’t hear it from me…
All I can say is… No!! If refrigerating is a bad idea, then freezing them is even worse.
What you can do, however, is freeze the dough! We don’t have any yeast or rising to worry about, so you can simply freeze and let thaw to room temperature before frying as you would the day you made it.
You can also freeze after frying but before adding the glaze… But I think that takes away from the yummy crispiness.
Of course! If you don’t want to mess around with the wreath, then don’t worry about it. You have plenty of fun arrangements you can try instead!
Shape them into a Christmas tree on a plate and decorate with colored sprinkles to make it look just like the real thing, stack them in a topsy turvy tower, or even make individual servings in cupcake wrappers!
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours.
More Italian Dessert Recipes
Italian Struffoli + Video
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup salted butter, melted
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- vegetable oil for frying, 5-6 cups
- 1 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Rainbow nonpareils
- To the bowl of a food processor, add eggs; pulse until frothy. Add orange zest, vanilla, sugar, and melted butter, and process until combined and foamy.
- Add flour and baking powder to the mixture and pulse just until combined. The dough will be very sticky.
- Wrap dough in a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
- When dough is chilled, transfer to a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into four even sections. Roll each section into a long rope, about the same thickness as your finger.
- Cut each rope of dough into sections ½ to 1-inch wide.
- Roll each section into a ball – the balls should be no larger than the size of a marble. Sprinkle the balls of dough with flour to prevent them from sticking to each other while rolling the remaining dough.
- Add 3 to 4 inches of cooking oil to a heavy bottomed pot set over medium-high heat. Allow oil to reach a frying temperature of 250°F. (Use an instant-read candy thermometer to determine the oil temperature).
- Fry dough balls in batches of 10 or so. Roll balls in the oil so they brown evenly on all sides. They will turn golden brown quite quickly.
- Using a slotted spoon, lift them out of the oil and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
- To make the honey glaze, add honey, orange juice, and ½ cup granulated sugar to a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir to combine. Cook, continuously stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
- Add the fried dough balls into the large saucepan and toss to fully coat with honey glaze.
- Spray a tall cylindrical drinking glass with non-stick cooking spray and set it in the center of a round plate (you can also use a springform pan as the sides help hold everything in while the struffoli sets.
- Mound the glazed struffoli balls to form a wreath around the glass. Sprinkle liberally with rainbow nonpareils.
- Allow the struffoli to set for 2-3 hours. Before serving, remove the glass from the center of the wreath.
All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.
Originally published November 2021, updated and republished November 2022
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