This Italian Christmas dessert, commonly called honey balls in the US, is best described as small balls of sweet dough, fried and then dipped in honey and decorated with chopped nuts, sprinkles, cinnamon, and grated citrus peel.
For the dough:
1/4 cup sugar – 3 medium eggs – 1 medium egg yolk
5 tbsp unsalted butter melted or well softened – 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp anise liquor (optional; may use brandy, limoncello or other)
1 medium orange grated (zest only) – 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
For the honey topping:
1 cup honey – 1 tsp cinnamon – 1 medium orange grated (zest only)
For frying and decorating:
canola oil enough to fill a frying pan with 1/2 to 1 inch of oil
1/4 cup sliced almonds – 2 tbsp colored sprinkles plus more for topping
To make the dough and shape the dough balls:
To the bowl of a standing mixer, add eggs, egg yolk, and sugar and beat with wire whisk attachment until frothy (about 1 minute). Add softened/melted butter and beat until it is incorporated. Add orange zest, and alcohol and mix until combined.
Add flour and salt and knead the dough until a soft and uniform dough is produced Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest on counter for 30 minutes or so.
When ready to begin rolling and cutting the dough, unwrap dough and form into a square; then cut the square into 4 or 5 strips.
Roll each strip into a long and thin snake shape that is about 1/4 inch in diameter
After all, dough has been rolled out, begin to cut the rolls into small nuggets. Some people go on to roll each of these little pieces, but it is not necessary.
To fry the dough balls:
Set a large pan with enough canola oil to fry (about 1/2 to 1 inch of oil) over medium-high heat and heat for a few minutes.
Fry the dough balls in batches; don’t crowd the pan. The dough balls should be ready in less than 1 minute as soon as they begin turning golden I start to take mine out after 30 to 40 seconds. This will vary depending on the power of your stove/heat.
Remove dough balls from oil with slotted spoon and place on dish lined with paper towels. If you are not making the honey syrup right away, store the dough balls in a covered container overnight or you may also freeze for up to one month.
To make the honey syrup:
Using a medium to large frying pan, add honey, cinnamon, and orange zest to the pan and then cook gently over medium heat until the mixture bubble gently.
To coat the Struffoli and shape the wreath:
As soon as honey is removed from heat, add the fried dough balls to coat them and stir until honey begins to thicken/cool down.
At this stage, add sprinkles and sliced almonds To shape the wreath, place a small glass in the center of a dinner plate and arrange Struffoli all around. Top with additional sprinkles if desired while the honey balls are still warm.