Struffoli for Christmas

Struffoli for Christmas

Struffoli are a Southern Italian favorite

Struffoli, puffy little balls of fried dough drenched in honey, are the quintessential Christmas sweet in Naples and other places in Italy, especially the Central and Southern regions.  When I was a little girl in Brooklyn, other kids would be helping their mothers to make gingerbread and spritz cookies, but in our house, it was always struffoli.  Mom would start with a 5-pound bag of flour and a couple of dozen eggs.  She would mix and knead the ingredients together until a smooth dough formed.  Then the dough was left to rest under a clean kitchen towel and she would fill a big pot with oil.  Then we would start slicing, rolling and cutting the dough until little bits.

Rolling out struffoli

Rolling out struffoli

Once the oil was hot enough, she would carefully slip the pieces of dough into the hot oil, making sure all the while that we kids stayed far away from the hot pot.  But I loved to watch as the struffoli turned from little pillow shaped pellets into crisp, brown puffs.  When she judged them sufficiently browned, she would scoop out the puffs and drain them on paper towels.  They were eggy and toasty tasting, but they really wouldn’t be at their best until they were thoroughly drenched in good honey.  My mom didn’t think much of the supermarket brands, preferring instead to drive to a private home on Staten Island where the owner kept bees and gathered several different types of honey.  My mom would ask for a blend of the light and dark honeys for a perfectly mellow flavor.

Frying Struffoli

Frying Struffoli

After tossing the struffoli with the warm honey came the fun part — piling the sticky balls into heaps on platters and disposable pie plates to be given as gifts to friends and family. But before they could be given away, the struffoli needed to be decorated.  We used little multicolored confetti and by the time we kids were done with the task, there were sticky finger marks and confetti all over the kitchen table and floor.  Sometimes we added candied red and green cherries, or sliced almonds, or strips of candied orange and citron.  Of course, we couldn’t resist tasting them to make sure they were as good as last year’s.

The big platter would go on the sideboard where we could pick off a few whenever we passed by throughout the holiday season.  The pie plates were wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbons to bring to friends and family.  Of course, they would give us plates of their own struffoli, but in my house, we all knew that mom’s were superior.  They were crisp and light and never dense and hard like others we had tasted.

A lot of Italian Americans have forgotten, or maybe they never knew, how to make struffoli, so I put them on the holiday entertaining menu I prepared at the cooking class I did at De Gustibus Cooking School at Macy’s on Thursday.  Sure enough, while I was getting ready for the class, I heard one of the assistants enter and exclaim, “Struffoli!  Hurray, we’re making struffoli!”  I felt just like a kid again, making struffoli with my mom.

Here’s my recipe for struffoli which I published in my book 1,000 Italian Recipes.  It makes a plateful, enough for 8 to 10.  If you want to make a big batch to give away, the recipe can easily be doubled.


Makes 8 servings

1 cup all-purpose flour plus more for kneading the dough

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest

Vegetable oil for frying

1 cup honey (about 6 ounces)

Possible garnishes: multicolored sprinkles, chopped candied orange peel, citron or  cherries, toasted sliced almonds

1. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour and the salt. Add the eggs and lemon zest and stir until well blended.

2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add a little more flour if the dough seems sticky. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover the dough with an overturned bowl. Let the dough rest 30 minutes.

3. Cut the dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Roll one slice between your palms into a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch nuggets. If the dough feels sticky, use a tiny bit of flour to dust the board or your hands. (Excess flour will cause the oil to foam up when you fry the struffoli.)

4. Line a tray with paper towels. Pour about 2 inches of oil into a wide heavy saucepan. Heat the oil to 370°F on a frying thermometer, or until a small bit of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and turns brown in 1 minute.

5. Being careful not to splash the oil, slip just enough struffoli into the pan to fit without crowding. Cook, stirring once or twice with a slotted spoon, until the struffoli are crisp and evenly golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the struffoli with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough.

6. When all of the struffoli are fried, gently heat the honey just to a simmer in a large shallow saucepan. Remove from the heat. Add the drained struffoli and toss well. Pile the struffoli onto a serving plate. Decorate with the multicolored sprinkles, candied fruits, or nuts.

7. To serve, break off a portion of the struffoli with two large spoons or a salad server.   Store covered with an overturned bowl at room temperature up to 3 days.

Copyright 2004 1,000 ITALIAN RECIPES by Michele Scicolone

If you have any questions or comments about this recipe, or others, I would love to hear from you at

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1 Michele Scicolone { 12.14.12 at 5:16 AM }

Well said, Anthony! Buon Natale to you with plenty of struffoli!

2 Teri { 12.16.12 at 11:06 AM }

As I was reading the story it brought back so many wonderful memories for me. While all my aunts would make these wonderful treats it came to be that my mother’s were the best. And all agreed. I would stand next to my mother as she made the dough, then rolled them and in a rthym cut the balls. As I got older I was taught how to roll the ropes, then doing the cutting. It took awhile but I finally got the rythm down!
She showed me how to tell when they were done. And fill tins and tins of these tiny little crunchy dough balls. I of course would also take some even before the honey was on them. My mother would then seperate them into seperate tins, all now drenching in wonderful gooey honey and bright colorful candies (non-perils). Then off she would go from house to house delivering what everyone was waiting for.

When my mother passed away in 2006 all my cousins and now along their husbands or wives would say “I’m going to miss aunt Marie’s struffoli” She passed away the end of April and I simply couldn’t bring myself to make them. The Christmas after I got all my ingrediants stood in kitchen, looked up and said “Ok mom here goes. Just keep an eye on things for me that I remember everything you taught me” That year I brought them to my brother/sister-in-laws and one cousin’s house. At my cousin’s house were all our other cousins were there. They sat around the table, picking on these wonderful treats. Taking them and dipping them in the honey that collected at the bottom of the tin. And each one said “OMG these are just like aunt Marie’s!” That was in 2007 . Here it is 5 years later and I am going out to get all the ingrediants because everybody is now waiting for aunt Marie’s struffoli and it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

Buon Natale to all

3 Michele Scicolone { 12.16.12 at 2:29 PM }

Thanks, Teri for sharing this beautiful memory! Buon Natale to you and your family. Michele

4 Millie Terranova { 12.19.12 at 9:53 PM }

How far advanced can I make the dough? If so, what is the best way to store it. Does the dough have to be room temp? Sorry for all the questions. Thanks in advance and Merry Christmas!

5 Millie Terranova { 12.19.12 at 9:54 PM }

Memory Blankets for the Victims of Newtown
BERWICK — This is a mission of love for Heather Bowling of Berwick and Stacy Blass of Pottsville. They’re crocheting…

1 of 2Choose a Thumbnail
This had gone viral and we are crocheting from all over the world!

6 Michele Scicolone { 12.20.12 at 6:31 AM }

Hi, Millie, 24 hours, more or less? Refrigerate it, but let it come to room temperature or it will be very hard to handle.
Merry Christmas to you, too! Michele

7 Michele Scicolone { 12.20.12 at 2:45 PM }

Thanks for this Millie. I will share it with a friend who crochets.

8 Juliet Pisa { 12.22.12 at 6:01 PM }

Hi Michele, My husband’s aunt makes the Struffoli very light and crispy.( she’s no longer around) but when I make it some are crispy and kind of heavy. What is causing it? I dont think she gave me the right amount of the ingredients.I like to make it for my kids and grandkids every christmas, to keep the husband’s family are originally from Naples. Can you help?Grazie. Buon natale.

9 Lisa { 12.22.12 at 8:45 PM }

I have a quick question. Do you have to fry the balls as soon as they are formed? Could we roll them all out – put them on a cookie sheet and leave out on counter or refrigerate and them fry them tomorrow? Please let me know. I want to make the, for Christmas.

10 Michele Scicolone { 12.23.12 at 7:05 AM }

Hi, Juliet,
I have often found that family recipes need adjustments to the quantities of ingredients. Nobody had accurate measuring tools and they didn’t write things down, so it was pinch of this and a spoonful of that. That’s why I write cookbooks, to figure these things out and record the recipes we all enjoy as accurately as possible.
As far as the heaviness is concerned, your problem could be in the frying. If the oil is not hot enough, the balls don’t puff and they become oily and dense. A good frying thermometer or an electric deep fryer is helpful for judging the temperature. Hope this helps! Michele

11 Michele Scicolone { 12.23.12 at 7:11 AM }

Hi, Lisa,
I have never made struffoli that way, so I can’t be certain. But my guess is that unless they were well covered, the dough balls would dry out if you make them 24 hours ahead. Then they would not puff up the way they should when they are fried. If you try it, be sure that they are tightly sealed with plastic wrap. Also, I think they are better when they are finished and have a chance to soak up some of the honey before you eat them.

12 Lisa { 12.23.12 at 8:40 AM }

Hi there,
I went ahead and made it all last night. The rolling didn’t take as long as I thought so I had plenty of time and it came out great. Thanks for responding.

13 Lisa { 12.23.12 at 8:43 AM }

Heres a link to photo

14 Michele Scicolone { 12.23.12 at 7:14 PM }

Hope they are as good as they look, Lisa! Merry Christmas!

15 Lisa { 12.23.12 at 10:04 PM }

Perhaps you could help me with a lost recipe. My Italian Grandmother used to make. I have searched the Internet high and low and can’t find anything. She called them Crespelles or Crespellites. My Mom made them for as well but it’s been a long time. They were fried and you put powdered sugar or syrup on them for breakfast. All my Mom remembers is 6 eggs, a fistful of flour and some water to thin it out- i would like to know the real name and see a more precise recipe if possible. Then the batter was just spooned into the hot oil. The only things I found were Zeppole but this was a wet batter not a dough. I wonder if Grandma Theresa had the wrong name for them. They were so good. I loved them as a child on Christmas morning. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

16 RoseMarie Cresta { 03.16.13 at 7:10 PM }

Thank you for this great recipe.I can not remember a Christmas going by without these on Christmas Eve.My parents were from Naples,it was important to have these every year. I remember the rolling,the frying, my brothers and sister waiting patiently to get the first batch.I now am passing this recipe to my children who grew up eating Nonna’a stuff oil every christmas.Grazie!

17 Michele Scicolone { 03.20.13 at 3:52 AM }

I am so glad to hear that you are passing these recipes on to your children! Memories like these not only bring families together but also keep our heritage alive.
Thanks for sharing with me RoseMarie and Buona Pasqua!

18 Amalia { 12.02.13 at 2:36 AM }

Thankyou so much for your recipe for Struffoli. My mother came from Naples and gave me lots of recipes before she passed away but not the one for her Struffoli, I don’t know why we overlooked this is one. It’s coming up to Christmas and mother always made some for the family and this year they have asked if I could make some for them, so I had a trial run this weekend using your recipe and the verdict by all was absolutlely marvellous. I shall be making some more for Christmas.
Buon Natale

19 Joanne Myers { 12.02.13 at 12:56 PM }

Hi Michele, my grandmother used to make these every holiday and we loved them. Does this recipe make the strufoli hard and crunchy or do they come out light and airy. Grandmas were dense and crunchy and that’s how I want them to turn out. Thanks!!

20 Michele Scicolone { 12.02.13 at 1:40 PM }

There is nothing better than struffoli to trigger memories of childhood! I hope you and your family enjoy these, Amalia! Buon Natale to you, too.

21 Michele Scicolone { 12.02.13 at 1:44 PM }

Hi, Joanne,
When the struffoli are first made, they are crunchy, but as they sit for a while, they absorb the moisture from the honey and become somewhat softer.
I can only suggest you make a small batch and see if they suit your taste. I hope so! Have a great holiday.

22 Joanne Myers { 12.10.13 at 3:21 PM }

Michele, I followed your recipe. The dough rolled easily and when I put the cut pieces in the dough, it split and they ended up looking like toasted popcorn kernels. And the consistency of the stuffoli was very airy. What did I do wrong???????

23 Joanne Myers { 12.10.13 at 3:22 PM }

sorry, when I put the dough in the oil to fry it, that’s when the dough split.

24 Michele Scicolone { 12.10.13 at 5:21 PM }

Hi, Joanne,
Nothing went wrong! The moisture from the eggs turned to steam in the hot oil and this causes the dough to puff up. It is supposed to happen and if you look closely at my photos (sorry, they’re not the best) my struffoli puff up too. Similar to when you bake cake or bread.
If you read through the comments on this post, you will see that everyone has their own idea of what the perfect struffoli should be, depending on how their grandmother made them! If you want yours denser, you can try reducing the amount of eggs, but I am afraid the dough will be hard to work with.

25 Val Durfee { 12.24.13 at 7:42 PM }

Hi Michele,
I can’t wait to try your struffoli recipe. I managed to lose my grandmother’s handwritten recipe that was handed down from my mother (sob!). My grandmother also used karo syrup for her struffoli and I wondered if it was a depression-era thing?

I have a quest…my mother used to make what she called amaretti, but they were very moist and lumpy–quite macaroon like and had candied peel in them. Have you seen anything like that?

Thank you!

26 Michele Scicolone { 12.30.13 at 7:52 AM }

Hi, Val, Hope you had a very merry Christmas!
I am afraid that Karo Syrup is a very American product and since it is inexpensive compared to honey, you probably are correct in thinking it would be a money saving gesture.
Not at all traditional.

As for the amaretti, I have had some with candied peel added, but I do not have a recipe to share with you. Why don’t you try making a standard amaretti recipe and add a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped candied orange peel and see how that works?

Regards, Michele

27 Karen { 12.13.14 at 9:55 AM }

Hi Michael, I make these every year, but I am wondering, how long ahead of time can I make these? Can I fry the dough a few days ahead and then add the honey the day I am giving them as gifts?
Thank you and merry Christmas!

28 Michele Scicolone { 12.14.14 at 5:50 AM }

Hi, Karen, You can make them at least 3 – 5 days ahead of time and add the honey the day you give them as gifts.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas,

29 Ann Pridemore { 12.18.15 at 10:05 AM }

Thank you for posting this recipe! I am Sicilian-American; my aunts and Mom would make several plates each Christmas, but we would add chopped semisweet chocolate and walnuts to the mounds as we formed them. We also added lemon juice to the honey. Now my sisters, nieces and I carry on the tradition. Thanks for helping to keep it alive!

30 Michele Scicolone { 12.18.15 at 5:09 PM }

Your family’s method sounds delicious! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

31 Melissa { 12.22.15 at 2:28 PM }

Can I make the dough a roll the balls the night before, then fry and coat with honey the next day? Christmas Day is too hectic

32 rs { 12.26.15 at 6:48 PM }

I must thank you so much – I have spent about 50 years trying to duplicate my grandmother from Brooklyn’s old Italian struffoli recipe – nothing has come close – finally I stumbled upon your recipe – and that is it – this recipe is positively the best struffoli recipe I have tasted in the last 50 years nothing comes close since my grandmother passed – everybody agrees this is the single best struffoli they have tasted – thank you for bringing me back to my youth – I had never thought I would have tasted anything like this again – thank you – thank you and thank you again

33 Michele Scicolone { 01.06.16 at 8:49 AM }

Thank you so much for writing! I am so happy to know this recipe satisfies your family’s memories.
Hope you had a good holiday and a Happy New Year! Michele

34 Michele Scicolone { 01.06.16 at 8:50 AM }

Hi, Melissa, I never tried that. If you have any luck with it, please let me know.
Happy New Year!

35 Melissa { 01.06.16 at 4:00 PM }

So I did give it a go, I think they came out just as good! Saved me a ton of time on Christmas Day that’s for sure!!

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