Sicilian Pignolata-Italian Honey Balls are fried balls of dough dipped in honey and topped with sprinkles. Made in Italy during the carnevale and also the holidays, or just for any special occasion. Impossible to eat just one!
Fried dough is common in many cultures. But in Italy, they fry dough for special occasions, especially during Christmas time. Pignolata are made in Sicily, Calabria and Umbria, so keep in mind that these tiny delights could appear in multiple regions and may have different names.
Sicilian Pignolata-Italian Honey Balls
What is Carnevale in Italy?
What is a traditional Italian Christmas dessert?
But if you ask anyone in my family in Sicily what they would traditionally eat as a sweet on Christmas Eve or Day, they would say Pignolata! Pignolata is one of the most popular southern Italian sweets made for Christmas.
You can find struffoli (another name for pignolata)in Perugia made with honey, sugar and candied fruits. It used to be made in Sicily usually during Carnevale, but is now also made during Christmas. You can find pignolata in different parts of Sicily with different names: pignocata, pagnuccata, pignolata.
My Calabrian mother-in-law when asked when is the time to make pignolata would say whenever it is time to celebrate! Since I have known her, she has made pignolata for Christmas, birthdays, Easter, a Communion. She hasn't reserved it just for Christmas time, and rightfully so! These mini balls of fried dough are sort of addictive with their sweet honey coating and the dash of festive sprinkles!
Sicilian Pignolata -Italian Honey Ball Tips
- It’s also important to make them the right size so you can enjoy the honey glaze more.
- Take care not to add too many dough pieces to the oil and fry all the dough pieces until evenly browned.
- An important baking tip for making struffoli: make sure you use a good quality honey.
- Also important to use the right amount of honey.
- If you skimp on the honey, they won't be as wonderfully sticky sweet and will be just dry dough pieces.
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Vintage Savoring Recipes-This Pignolata recipe is from the SI archives, first published in 2015. I will be showing some TLC to some amazing recipes you may have missed on the blog…all part of my new series called Vintage Savoring Recipes. Most of these recipes will have fresh photos and fresher notes. It’s such a joy for me to revisit a beloved recipe like this Italian Honey Ball recipe! Hope you enjoy some delicious blasts from the past!
slightly updated from 12/15
Sicilian Pignolata-Italian Honey Balls
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour extra may be needed
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- zest of one large orange
- 1 cup orange blossom honey
- Vegetable oil to fry
To make the dough
- In the bowl of a large mixer, beat eggs sugar, salt and oil.
- Sift the flour into the mix and beat on medium speed with a dough hook until you obtain a soft dough. Add more flour as needed a little at a time if the dough is too sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until it is smooth.
- Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll into ropes (about ½ inch thick). Cut each rope into ½ inch pieces and roll the pieces in your hands (like you’re making meatballs) into little balls.
- Toss a little bit of flour on the dough balls so they don’t stick while you roll the other pieces.
- Heat oil in a large heavy saucepan to 350 degrees F.
- Carefully add about 6 pieces of dough at a time and fry until they are evenly browned (about 3 minutes).
- Remove the dough pieces with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat process until you fry all the pieces of dough.
To make the syrup
- In a large skillet, bring the sugar, water and orange zest to a boil. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves.
- Whisk in the honey; reduce the heat to medium-high.
- Add the balls and stir to coat them evenly with the honey syrup. Cook for about 5 minutes until they obtain a nice glaze.
- Immediately place them on serving plate stacking them like a pinecone. Use caution as they are very hot.
- Toss on the sprinkles.
Please keep in mind that the nutritional information presented below is an approximation and may vary depending on the exact ingredients used.
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Lora, this looks really good! I think I need to make these for myself and the kids. Love this idea!
Lais Rosa Dias says
Eu amo essa receita,na minha familia fazemos no Natal.
Muito obrigado! Feliz Natal XOXO
Shaved chocolate and powered sugar added as you mound on a dinner plate.
Sandra Filippone says
Love these! Raised in them!
Ciao Sandra-Thank you! So happy you have memories of them! Buon Natale! XX
My Nonna made these every Christmas! It’s been 20 years since she passed and I am going to attempt them this year! I never knew what they were called! She would make little stacks in paper cupcake liners!
Ciao Sandra-Awww...that's such a sweet memory of your nonna making them. And yes! They do get placed in cupcake liners!! I grew up having them like that, too! Buon Natale...xx
How much does this usually make? I wanted to shape into a wreath (my aunt used to do that) and I’m unsure if the recipes yields a lot.
Hi Jenn-I list that it's 30 servings. You can see on the 4th photo the pile of balls that we made. Not sure if that looks like enough for your wreath (also we rolled them pretty small). I never made them into a wreath so I can't say. To be safe, you could double the recipe (I'm not sure how big of a wreath you need to make) and you may end up with extra. Happy Holidays!
Teresa La Fata Allen says
My mom made these every Christmas. She used to cover them with plastic cling wrap. Do I need to do this to prevent them drying out?
Yes, if not serving right away..you could definitely cover with some plastic cling wrap. Happy Baking! Buon Natale Teresa!
carolyn scaturro says
Does the honey stay onto balls, or run off to bottom of plate...like mine did with other recipes?
I mention in the directions: To the pot where you make the honey syrup: Add the balls and stir to coat them evenly with the honey syrup. Cook for about 5 minutes until they obtain a nice glaze....so yes, the glaze is supposed to coat the honey balls. Your goal is to create a nice glaze on the balls. Some may come off, because it is a honey glaze/syrup.
I’ve made these for many years but never in cupcake papers. Don’t they stick to the papers?
I'm not sure which part of recipe you're referring to...there is no part that mentions making them in cupcake liners. The recipe clearly states: They're fried, drained on paper towels, tossed in the syrup, stacked on a plate, sprinkles get tossed on top. There were paper doilies lining one of the plates...is that where you're confused? That is only to make the plate look pretty. Did you not read the recipe?
Again, please read the recipe and you can see that there is no part of recipe that says to make these in cupcake liners. Happy Holidays!
I Wood log To Make your honey balls but you did not say how much honey to put in with the sugar
Hi Luci-not sure why you missed it in the ingredient list. The ingredient list states:
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water
zest of one large orange
1 cup orange blossom honey
You could use any sort of honey you like or have in your pantry. I used ONE CUP (which is about 340 grams) orange blossom honey. Hope that helps!! XO
I saw it after that it was orange honey thank u
No problem...hope you enjoy!!!