I love baking for my friends and family. So whenever my father-in-law, Joe, mentions his favorite childhood dessert, I take it as a little hint. I love pignolata, too, so I decided to try my hand at making him some. I just love the look on my friends’ and family’s faces when I set their favorite dish down in front of them. Now we can’t stop making pignolata. It’s so good!

Joe’s Favorite Pignolata: Sicilian Fried Dough Balls with Honey

What is pignolata?

Besides being Joe’s all-time favorite dessert, pignolata is a traditional Sicilian pastry served on special holidays like Christmas and St. Joseph’s Day. Essentially, pignolate (that’s the plural of pignolata) are fried dough balls, drenched in a delicious honey mixture. Piled up and served in the shape of a ring, these little treats will become a tradition in your home too!

Can you make pignolata ahead of time?

Here’s a pignolata tip: You can make pignolata ahead of time! After they’ve been fried and allowed to cool, you can pop them in the freezer for an easy dessert down the line. The day before you want to serve them, thaw the dough balls overnight in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to serve your pignolata, pour the syrup over them and form them into the traditional ring. It’s an instant crowd pleaser!

Frying Pignolata

What Kind of Honey is Best for Pignolata?

My honey of choice to use for a pignolata topping is orange blossom honey. It has just the right flavor! When I want to get extra fancy with my garnish, I like to use chopped glacé cherries. Make sure to read the whole recipe below to see what my other favorite toppings are!

Pignolata isn’t a cookie, but hear me out.

This recipe also appeared in my cookie-themed cookbook, A Gift of Cookies: Recipes to Share with Family and Friends. Pignolata isn’t exactly a cookie (heck, it’s not even baked) but it is a traditional Italian treat that is well-loved by multiple generations of my extended family. I hope my family recipes can become traditions for you too—make sure to check out A Gift of Cookies if you love baking. Oh, and did I mention that all proceeds go to charity?

Pignolata Ingredients
Pignolata Dough
Cutting Pignolata dough
Glazing Pignolata
Decorating Pignolata
Served Pignolata
Yield: 3 dozen
Joe’s Favorite Pignolata Recipe: Sicilian Fried Dough Balls with Honey

Joe’s Favorite Pignolata Recipe: Sicilian Fried Dough Balls with Honey

Prep time: 1 HourCook time: 20 MinTotal time: 1 H & 20 M
Ahhh, doughnuts. Pignolata is the perfect variation of a doughnut, and I’m not just saying that because I’m Italian! As always, the best part is decorating—this is a recipe that’s truly fun to serve.


For the Dough
For the Syrup
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • A few drops of orange extract, optional
For the Topping
  • Chopped toasted almonds or pine nuts
  • Chopped candied orange peel
  • Sprinkles
  • Glacé cherries


  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, zest, cinnamon, and cloves, if using. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vegetable oil, brandy, and Mary DiSomma’s Cognac Barrel-aged 100% Madagascar Pure Vanilla Extract.
  2. Now you’re going to get your hands dirty because you’ll mix this dough the way my Italian grandmother did! Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid ingredients into the center. Break the egg mixture with a fork and pull the flour into the center. Now combine the ingredients with your hands until you can form a smooth ball. If the dough is dry, add a little more brandy. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Make sure not to overwork the dough or your pignolata will be tough. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rest for one hour.
  3. Break off pieces of dough and roll into ½-inch ropes. Cut the ropes into ¼-inch pieces and roll into balls.
  4. Place the little balls on a lightly floured work surface and cover with a towel to prevent them from drying out. Once all the dough is cut, it’s time to start heating up the oil.
  5. Pour 1 to 2 inches of vegetables into a frying pan, making sure there is another 1 to 2 inches of room at the top. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. You will know the oil is hot enough when you drop a test piece of dough in it and it bubbles vigorously.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to drop the pieces of dough into the oil. Fry the individual dough balls for approximately 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet that has a layer of paper towels on top. If you want, you can freeze the cooked dough balls on a clean parchment-lined baking sheet for up to 2 days. Thaw them overnight in the refrigerator before garnishing and serving.
  7. When you are ready to assemble the pignolata, prepare the honey syrup. In a small saucepan, combine the honey, sugar, and water. Bring to a simmer but do not let the mixture boil. Add the balls to the honey mixture using a slotted spoon. Once fully coated, remove them from the syrup and place them on a clean parchment-lined baking sheet.
  8. Now it’s time to arrange them on a serving platter. Select a decorative round platter or cake stand and shape the balls into a mound or donut shape. Garnish with chopped nuts, sprinkles, glace cherries, and orange peel.
Did you make this recipe?
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