Wrapping up our 4-part series, popular romance authors share their favorite holiday recipes--some even inspired by their novels--to help you with your holiday entertaining (part 1, part 2, part 3). Last but not least is Rosanna Chiofalo with her recipe for fried honey balls. Her latest work can be found in the holiday collaboration, When the Snow Falls.
Rosanna Chiofalo’s Fried Honey Balls (also known as Pignolata or Struffoli)
Every year for Christmas I helped my mother make Fried Honey Balls. In my Sicilian dialect, they’re called Pignolata, but many Italians also know the golden balls coated in honey and adorned with colorful confetti as Struffoli. Whatever you call them, the appearance of these gumball-sized fried pieces of dough signify Christmas, and can be found in many Italian American bakeries during the season.
Cooking and baking was one way for my family and me to share the food from our culture, along with the other customs surrounding the holiday. In addition to special dishes, another custom my we shared while I was growing up was playing cards for pennies after our Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve—just the way my character Bianca Simone and her family gather to play cards in my novella “Seven Days of Christmas.”
Last year I decided to finally take on the challenge of making Pignolata to continue my mother’s tradition, especially now she’s older and does not bake or cook as much for the holidays. The gods of baking were with me, not only did my Pignolata come out great, but my husband even thought it was better than my mother’s! Shhh! Don’t tell my mother!
I hope you enjoy this recipe and share it with your loved ones during the holiday season!
Fried Honey Balls
(also known as “Pignolata” or “Struffoli”)
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, add extra if needed
Vegetable oil for frying
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 ½ cups honey
Colored candy sprinkles
To make the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a whisk, then beat in the sugar, salt, and oil. Sift in the flour, and with a wooden spoon, mix to form soft, but not sticky, dough. Add a bit more flour if the dough is sticky. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes (until the dough has a smooth consistency). Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll, one at a time, into ropes about ½-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut each rope into ½-inch pieces, and transfer the pieces onto a lightly floured baking sheet, separating them so they don’t stick to one another. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let them rest while you heat the oil.
In a large, deep, heavy saucepan or pot, heat 3-inches of oil to 350⁰ (use a deep-fry or candy thermometer). Fry a handful of the pieces of dough at a time in the hot oil, stirring with a wooden spoon so they brown evenly, until they are a deep golden brown, for about 3 minutes. Resist the temptation to add too many pieces of dough to the hot oil as this will lower the temperature of the cooking oil. Drain the fried pieces of dough on paper towels.
To make the syrup:
In a large pot or deep frying pan, bring the water, sugar, and orange zest to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the honey. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the little balls, stirring to coat them evenly with the syrup. Be careful while working with this syrup. It is very, very hot. Continue to cook and stir for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the balls have absorbed some of the syrup and look glazed. Be sure not to let the syrup get too dark. Turn the balls of dough onto a large platter. Using a metal spoon dipped in water, form the balls into a pyramid. Add sprinkles.