Italian Fried Dough (Pizza Fritta/Zeppole)

The process of making fried dough spans back centuries. It has been said that the technique could have started as early as 8000 BC, or even before — all that humans needed was fat and a vessel in which to fry the water and flour mixture. 

overhead shot of plate of zeppoles drizzled with chocolate with text overlay for facebook


 

The dough itself is simple — it’s basically a sweetened and softer version of pizza dough. Once formed, it’s deep-fried and then often garnished with something sweet like powdered sugar.

Nearly every country and culture has a version of fried dough and it often takes on different shapes or sizes. In the United States, it’s typical for it to be a small ball, but it can be larger as well, or even incorporate yeast, in the case of elephant ears or donuts.

powdered sugar sprinkled on italian fried dough balls

Other different variations of the delicious fried treat are Italy’s zeppole or pizza fritta (also spelled pizza fritte), France’s beignets (which are also prevalent in New Orleans), China’s eggy youtiao, Spain and Latin America’s buñuelo, Uganda and Tanzania’s mendazi, and the chruściki in Poland. West Africa has a version as well, called akara, that’s made with pea flour.

No matter the shape or the size, or the different names, fried dough is a universal sweet treat as versatile as its savory counterpart, pizza dough. While you can find people dipping pizza crust into everything from honey, hot honey and buffalo sauce to garlic butter sauce, fried dough is equally dippable into the likes of blond syrup, fruity sauces, or chocolate.

The next time you’re looking for an easy dessert that will match well with anyone’s palate, try frying up these delicious Italian fried dough balls. 

overhead shot of zeppole on cooling rack

Why You’ll Love Fried Dough

These fried dough balls will bring back memories of snacking at a summertime fair or on the boardwalk at the beach.

  • Easy – The batter comes together quickly and the cooking process is speedy.
  • Tasty – These light and airy puffs of dough with their crunchy crust are such a treat.
  • Customizable – You can pair these dough puffs with all sorts of sweet sauces.
  • Versatile – These are just as perfect for special occasions like Christmas Eve or birthdays as it they are for casual gatherings.
close up of italian fried dough on cooling rack

Ingredients

Just pull these simple ingredients out of the cabinet and get to work making this quick dough.

  • All purpose flour – This is an essential ingredient. You can try using alternative flours but we haven’t experimented with those yet.
  • Sugar – There’s powdered sugar for the topping but including sugar in the dough will help to make it sweet.
  • Baking powder – This leavening agent will help the dough to rise perfectly.
  • Coarse kosher salt – A little salt brings out the sweet flavor.
  • Unsalted butter – Adding small pieces of cold butter helps create the ideal texture when it’s fried.
  • Warm milk – Using warm milk also helps develop the right texture and maintain moisture.
  • Vegetable oil – If you don’t have this handy another neutral oil will work.
  • Powdered sugar – This is for the garnish. It’s helpful to use a sifter to shake it over top of the hot fried dough when it comes out of the fryer.
overhead close up shot of italian fried dough balls

How To Make Fried Dough

Having a deep fry thermometer handy while you make this recipe will make it easier to ensure you maintain the proper oil temperature.

  1. Sift the dry ingredients (except confectioner’s sugar) into a large bowl. 
  2. Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients and mix using a pastry cutter or your fingers.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the warm water until the dough forms.
  4. Allow the dough to rest briefly.
  5. When ready to cook, use a spoon to scoop out a small amount of batter.
  6. Drop the ball of dough into the hot oil of the heated skillet.
  7. Turn the ball halfway through cooking and remove from the oil once it is golden brown on all sides and somewhat puffy.
  8. Remove the ball from the skillet and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels or clean kitchen towels.
  9. Repeat with the dough until it has all been used.
  10. Transfer fried dough balls to a wire rack and place it over a baking sheet in the pre-heated oven until ready to serve.
  11. Garnish with powdered sugar before serving.

Variations

There are lots of different ways to change up this fried dough recipe.

  • Garnishes – Try sprinkling decorators sugar, lemon zest, or pine nuts over top of the fried dough when it is fresh out of the oven. You can also use other citrus zest like orange or lime.
  • Topping – Decorate the finished dough with pastry cream or drizzle a sweet confectioners’ sugar icing over top. You can also roll them warm balls of dough in cinnamon sugar.
  • Ricotta – Change up the texture a bit by using eggs and ricotta cheese when mixing the dough.
  • Savory – To make these a savory treat, omit the sugar and add in ingredients with flavors you love. Try parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, chopped sage leaves,
close up of italian fried dough

Fried Dough Dipping Sauce

overhead shot of plate zeppoles drizzled with chocolate

Storage, Make Ahead and Freezing

Fried dough is best when it’s fresh but you can store it at room temperature for about 2 days in an airtight container.

Make-Ahead: You can make the dough ahead of time and store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours until you are ready to fry.

Refrigerator: Keep fried dough fresher for a longer period of time by storing it in an airtight container for up to 1 week. You can also wrap with plastic wrap.

Freezer: Store fried dough in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. You can also wrap them tightly with plastic wrap.

collage of italian fried dough for pinterest

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close up of bag of italian fried dough with text overlay for pinerest
overhead close up shot of italian fried dough balls

Italian Fried Dough

4.19 from 27 votes
This Italian fried dough, also known as zeppole or pizza fritta, is an easy dessert that is perfect for casual parties or special occasions!
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 24 balls

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Preheat a oven to warm or 170°F. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, blend in the cold butter.
  • Stir in the warm milk until the dough comes together. Cover and set aside to rest for 15 minutes. Dough will still be slightly sticky.
  • Using a shallow skillet, heat approximately 1-inch of vegetable oil to 350°F. Use a deep fry thermometer to make sure your heat is stable.
  • Spray a tablespoon with cooking spray and scoop out a heaping tablespoon to form a loose ball. Drop into the hot oil, cooking for about 1 minute and turning halfway until golden brown. Continue to work until all is fried, approximately 24 balls. Balls will be golden brown and slightly puffed.
  • Remove to a wire rack over a baking sheet and place into a warm oven until ready to serve.
  • When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar.
  • If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 1275 kcal, Carbohydrates: 215 g, Protein: 32 g, Fat: 31 g, Saturated Fat: 18 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 7 g, Trans Fat: 1 g, Cholesterol: 82 mg, Sodium: 1829 mg, Potassium: 1357 mg, Fiber: 7 g, Sugar: 21 g, Vitamin A: 996 IU, Calcium: 617 mg, Iron: 12 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 1275
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: fried italian dough
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal and more!

Read More About Jessica

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Questions and Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    it is the best i thing i ever had i love it i can eat that all day long think you for creating something i like because i don’t like dessert .

  2. 5 stars
    This was such a unique and delicious treat that does not disappoint! Exactly what I needed to cure my sweet tooth; easily, my new favorite dessert!

  3. 5 stars
    Love these Italian fried dough so simple and easy to make!! Going to make these and I am sure they are going to be big hits with the family!!