How to Make Pignolata, Sicilian Fried Dough Balls With Honey and Pine Nuts

Sicilian Fried Dough Balls with Honey and Pine Nuts
By Steve-081 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • 30 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Here is a reader-submitted recipe for traditional Sicilian pignolata, which comes from the word pignula, meaning, in Sicilian dialect, "pine nut." (Note that in standard Italian, pine nut is "pinolo" and "pignola" would mean something like "anal-retentive.")

This typical dessert, popular during Carnival time, is a ring formed out of small, deep-fried balls (about the size of a hazelnut) of dough that has been tossed in hot honey. The ring is then sprinkled with pine nuts and colorful candy confetti or sprinkles. It's quite similar to the Neapolitan sweet known as struffoli, which, however, are typically served at Christmastime.

Note that there is a version of pignolata, originating in the Sicilian city of Messina, which is quite different —while also a pile of small fried dough balls, the pile is shaped to form a pine cone and covered in a half- dark chocolate and half-lemon glaze.

[Edited by Danette St. Onge]

What You'll Need

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups peanut oil, for frying
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon colored candy confetti or sprinkles

How to Make It

  1. Place 1 cup of the flour on a wooden mixing board. Form the flour into a small volcano shape and break the eggs into the center, one at a time. Add the salt and knead together gently, using your hands.
  2. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a medium-soft, easily molded dough.
  3. Knead the dough until smooth, then divide it in half.
  4. Roll out half of the dough on a lightly floured board into a circular piece about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into strips about 1/4-inch wide. Roll each strip gently between your palms to form a small rope, then cut 1/4-inch long pieces from the rope. Each cut piece of dough should be about the size of a small marble. Distribute the pieces on a lightly floured board. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough.
  1. Heat the oil in a deep-sided pot. When very hot, gradually add a few dough pieces and fry in batches, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Brown lightly for 1 to 2 minutes; then remove the fried dough balls from the oil with a perforated spoon or wire-mesh skimmer and drain them on a paper-towel-lined plate or tray.
  2. Mix the sugar and honey in a deep, wide skillet; and heat over low flame, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until the sugar has completely dissolved. When very smooth, add the fried dough pieces, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the dough is evenly covered in honey. Remove quickly and arrange on a large platter in a ring or in small clusters, using a spoon to mold the bits together. Sprinkle with pine nuts and candy confetti. Let cool.
  3. Serve by breaking off individual pieces with a fork. Pignolata keeps fresh for 2 weeks when stored in an air-tight container.

This video shows the process step-by-step: