Zeppole Recipe (Easy Italian Donuts)

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Zeppole Recipe (Easy Italian Donuts) are crispy on the outside, super light, airy, and fluffy inside, and scented with orange zest. These little Italian doughnuts resemble those found in bakery shops all over Italy.

zeppole on a glass serving plate.
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This recipe for zeppole is my nonna’s recipe straight from Italy! More Italian treats you will love Chiacchiere di Carnevale Recipe (Italian Fried Pastries), Authentic Struffoli Recipe (Italian Honey Balls), and BEST Authentic Sicilian Cannoli Recipe.

You don’t have to wait for the festival of Saint Joseph (San Giuseppe- March 19) or an Italian Carnevale festival to enjoy these little fried Italian treats. With this recipe, you can make delicious Zeppole right at home! Enjoy these Italian donut holes any time of the year.

My nonna had a huge sweet tooth; zeppoles were one of her all-time favorite treats. When she got too frail to make her own, anyone who visited her brought a little paper bag of freshly fried zeppole from the bakery.

You will also enjoy these Italian Baked Donuts and Bomboloni Recipe (Italian Donuts with Cream Filling).

zeppole coming out of brown paper bag.
zeppole coming out of brown paper bag.
close up of zeppole on paper napkins.

Simple Ingredients

A super light and fluffy Italian treat made from simple ingredients you can quickly get from the grocery store or you probably already have in your pantry and refrigerator.

ingredient shot for recipe
  • Whole Milk 
  • Unsalted butter
  • White Sugar 
  • Salt 
  • 00 Flour, or All-purpose flour 
  • Active Dry Yeast
  • Large Eggs
  • Orange Zest (or Lemon Zest)
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Oil for frying (neutral-tasting oil such as peanut oil, vegetable oil, sunflower, or canola oil)

See the recipe card for quantities.

Golden brown and perfectly fluffy on the inside, these Italian zeppoles only take 10 minutes to make, 45 minutes to rest, and 15 minutes to fry!

Surprise your friends and family with these freshly made Italian donut treats. They are perfect for holiday celebrations, game day gatherings, or a midnight snack.

zeppole cut open to show soft and fluffy interior.

How to Make Zeppole

Like doughnuts in other parts of the world, there isn’t just one variation of zeppole donuts, Italy’s a famous Italian pastry. Here is our family zeppole recipe. You will love these little dough balls. You can serve them in brown paper bags or parchment paper to feel like you are walking the streets of Italy as you eat them!

How to Make Zeppole Dough

process of making zeppoles: yeast bloomed in milk.

Cut the butter into small cubes and let sit at room temperature until softened.
Heat milk in the microwave or a small saucepan over medium heat until warm but not hot to touch (110°F to 115°F). Sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast over the warm milk and sit until bubbly and foamy, about 10 minutes. If yeast doesn’t bubble, it is not active, and you need to start over with new yeast.

making zeppole dough- adding dry ingredients to mixing bowl

Place flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until combined.

making zeppole dough- adding wet ingredients to dry ingredients

Add the milk and yeast mixture, beaten egg, orange zest, and vanilla.

making zeppole dough- mixing the wet and dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Beat with the dough hook on medium-low speed until a dough forms, about 3 minutes.

making zeppole dough- adding butter to the dough and incorporating with mixer

Add the butter chunks and continue to mix on medium-low speed until all the butter is incorporated about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes total.

making zeppole dough- mixed dough with butter in it.

The dough will be very sticky and smooth. 

making zeppole dough- transfer sticky dough to greased bowl and let it rise.

Lightly coat a medium bowl with vegetable oil and scrape the dough into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let sit in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Shape Zeppole Donuts

process of making zeppoles:

Once the dough is proofed or doubled in size, you are ready to shape and fry the dough. 

process of making zeppole: rolling into dough balls

Grease hands with a little bit of oil–the dough is sticky. Roll each piece into a ball using a tablespoon to scoop the dough. You may need to cut it with a pair of kitchen shears.

Place the prepared balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp paper towel as you roll the rest of the dough.

How to Fry Zeppole

Heat 4 cups vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until 350°F. Meanwhile, cover a baking sheet with paper towels.

process of making zeppole: frying in hot oil

Fry the zeppole in batches of about 5. Add the zeppole to the hot oil and fry, stirring with a slotted spoon a few times, until golden brown and puffed 3 to 5 minutes.  

process of making zeppole:

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the zeppole to the baking sheet covered with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

serving zeppoles and rolling in granulated sugar

Roll the warm zeppole in granulated sugar or dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

zeppole on napkins ready to eat.

Toppings

There are a variety of tasty topping options for zeppole

  • Powdered Sugar – dust over the top of fried donuts.
  • Granulated Sugar or Cinnamon Sugar – fill a bowl with sugar or cinnamon sugar and roll the hot Zeppole to coat on all sides.
  • Italian Pastry Cream – make some chocolate, vanilla, or pistachio pastry cream and dip the zeppole for an extra indulgent treat.
  • Chocolate Sauce – add a homemade chocolate sauce to the zeppole donuts for an extra sweet treat.
Zeppole Recipe (Easy Italian Donuts)children's hands reaching for zeopple recipe that are on a plate.

Equipment Needed

Storage Instructions

As with any fried dough, zeppole are best enjoyed fresh and hot! Homemade zeppoles will stay fresh for about 2-3 days. Place them in an airtight container and store them on the counter.

Zeppole Recipe (Easy Italian Donuts)zeppole coming out of brown paper bag.

Can you Freeze Zeppole?

Yes, you can freeze the zeppole after they are cooked and fried. You can freeze them for up to six months in an airtight container.

zeppole on a marble counter top with brown paper bag in background.

How to Reheat

The best way to reheat Italian donuts is by wrapping them in aluminum foil and warming them in the oven. Place them on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This also works if they are frozen.

Top tips

  • Room temperature eggs and butter. This will help the dough rise faster and be more elastic.
  • Activate yeast. Ensure the milk is warm enough to activate the yeast but not so warm that it kills it—a temperature of around 110°F.
  • Hot oil. Maintain oil temperature around 350°F. You can lower or raise the heat to keep a stable temperature. Too low of a temperature and the doughnuts will absorb too much oil; too high and they will brown faster on the outside and stay raw in the middle.
  • Work in batches and often stir for proper cooking. Overcrowding the pot with zeppole can lower the oil temperature and cause them to stick together and not brown properly. 
Zeppole Recipe (Easy Italian Donuts)zeppole coming out of brown paper bag.

FAQs

Zeppole vs. Beignets

In short, Zeppole are Italian doughnuts, and beignets are French doughnuts. While zeppole and beignets are a form of fried dough, their shape is the most apparent difference. Beignets, a name that comes from a word meaning “lump,” are generally large squares. Zeppoles are soft, fried dough balls that are chewy, tender, and round. The dough also differs slightly in ingredients and method.

How do you pronounce Zeppole?

The Italian word Zeppole is pronounced “zeh-po-ley”.

Can you make Zeppole ahead of time?

You can make zeppole ahead of time. After frying them, please place them in an airtight freezer container and freeze them for up to 3 months.
Alternatively, you can prepare dough balls, place them on a tray lined with parchment paper, cover them with plastic wrap, and freeze them until you are ready to fry. Take the prepared dough balls out of the freezer 1-2 hours before frying to reach room temperature and fry as directed.
The best way to reheat Italian donuts is by wrapping them in aluminum foil and warming them in the oven. Place them on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This also works if they are frozen.

When is Zeppole season?

St. Giuseppe Day is March. 19. The story goes that a severe drought struck Sicily in the Middle Ages. The people of the time promised St. Joseph they’d cook a meatless feast, including sweets, if he brought rain. He did bring rain, and the zeppole tradition was started. Zeppole season is typically February and into March, as this famous fried dough is also served during the Carnevale or Mardi Gras season. This fried donut treat is also enjoyed year-round in Italy.

What is zeppole?

Zeppole is an Italian donut made of deep-fried dough in various sizes. This recipe is for bite-sized donut balls typically rolled in granulated sugar for crunch or regular powdered sugar. This zeppole recipe results in perfectly sweet, pillowy Italian donuts resembling the kind you find in pastry shops in Italy, most common during Carnevale season. Rather than the traditional round donut shape with a hole in the middle, this zeppole recipe is round balls and resembles donut holes.

Zeppole variations and names

Here are two primary varieties of zeppole donuts in Italy. One is made using choux dough (cream puff dough) and filled with pastry cream. This variety is famous in the Naples region of Italy and are called Baked Zeppole Di San Giuseppe Recipe (Italian).
Some even make zeppole with ricotta cheese or add mashed potato to the dough. There are even versions that use leftover pizza dough to make zeppole.
In Sardegna, Italy, they make a funnel-type shape with a little runnier dough that resembles a long coiled snake. They also have a version resembling a smaller, more irregularly shaped round donut with a large hole in the center.
Both versions are covered in granulated sugar. Since Sardegna is famous for its saffron, sometimes they add that to the dough.
As you can see, many zeppole varieties depend on Italy’s region. This zeppole recipe is a sweet “fried dough.” I use a yeast dough scented with citrus, which resembles what the U.S. most knows as a “donut hole.”
Other names of Italian doughnuts that are similar to zeppole: Italian Sfingi, Neapolitan Graffe (or Graffette), Bomboloni, and Fritelle.

What is the best oil for frying donuts?

It is best to use a neutral-tasting oil such as peanut oil, vegetable oil, sunflower, or canola.

Zeppole Recipe (Easy Italian Donuts)zeppole cut open to show soft and fluffy interior.

More Italian Desserts

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Zeppole Recipe

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5 from 2 reviews

Zeppole Recipe (Easy Italian Donuts) are crispy on the outside and super light and fluffy on the inside. These little Italian doughnuts resemble those found in bakery shops all over Italy. This recipe for zeppole is my nonna’s recipe straight from Italy!

  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 1820 zeppole 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk, warm
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 cups 00 flour, or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten (at room temperature)
  • Zest of 1 orange (or lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups vegetable oil, for deep frying, plus more for greasing
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar or granulated sugar for serving

Instructions

Make Dough 

  1. Cut the butter into small cubes and let sit at room temperature until softened.
  2. Heat milk in the microwave or a small saucepan over medium heat until warm but not hot to touch (110°F to 115°F). Sprinkle yeast over the warm milk and sit until bubbly and foamy, about 10 minutes. If yeast doesn’t bubble, it is not active, and you need to start over with new yeast.
  3. Place flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until combined. Add the milk and yeast mixture, beaten egg, orange zest, and vanilla. Beat with the dough hook on medium-low speed until a dough forms, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the butter chunks and continue to mix on medium-low speed until all the butter is incorporated about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes total. The dough will be very sticky and smooth. 

Let Dough Rest 

  1. Lightly coat a medium bowl with vegetable oil and transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let sit in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Shape Zeppole 

  1. Once the dough is proofed or doubled in size, you are ready to shape and fry the dough. 
  2. Grease hands with a little bit of oil. Roll each piece into a ball using a tablespoon to scoop the dough. You may need to cut it with a pair of kitchen shears to seperate it.
  3. Place the prepared balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp paper towel as you roll the rest of the dough. 

Fry Zeppole 

  1. Heat 4 cups vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until 350°F. Meanwhile, cover a baking sheet with paper towels.
  2. Fry the zeppole in batches of about 5. Add the zeppole to the hot oil and fry, stirring with a slotted spoon a few times, until golden brown and puffed 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the zeppole to the baking sheet covered with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Serve 

  1. Roll the warm zeppole in granulated sugar or dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

Notes

Top tips

  • Room temperature eggs and butter. This will help the dough rise faster and be more elastic.
  • Activate yeast. Ensure the milk is warm enough to activate the yeast but not so warm that it kills it—a temperature of around 110°F.
  • Hot oil. Maintain oil temperature around 350°F. You can lower or raise the heat to keep a stable temperature. Too low of a temperature and the doughnuts will absorb too much oil; too high and they will brown faster on the outside and stay raw in the middle.
  • Work in batches and often stir for proper cooking. Overcrowding the pot with zeppole can lower the oil temperature and cause them to stick together and not brown properly. 

Make ahead of time

You can make zeppole ahead of time. After frying them, please place them in an airtight freezer container and freeze them for up to 3 months.
Alternatively, you can prepare dough balls, place them on a tray lined with parchment paper, cover them with plastic wrap, and freeze them until ready to fry. Take the prepared dough balls out of the freezer 1-2 hours before frying to reach room temperature and fry as directed.
The best way to reheat Italian donuts is by wrapping them in aluminum foil and warming them in the oven. Place them on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This also works if they are frozen.

  • Author: Elena
  • Prep Time: 10 min + rest time
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Sweet
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

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About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

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7 Comments

  1. Taste just like my Nonna’s. I dust with sugar or vanilla sugar. my Zia uses rose water mixed with powdered sugar.






  2. I just made these took about 1 hour total! Soooo delicious! Thank you for sharing your recipes!! It was hard to control the oil temp but they are all good!! May need to invest in a fryer.

    1. Hi Mary! They are irresistible! You can get a frying thermometer that hooks to your pot and you just keep it in the oil while frying. Enjoy your zeppole!

      1. Yes, see the post for a more descriptive answer. You will take the dough out a couple of hours before making them. Enjoy.