Italian Fried Dough Balls (Tortelli)

Tortelli di Carnevale are delicious and fluffy fried dough balls coated with sugar. These typical Italian Carnival doughnuts are called Tortelli in Milan and central Italy, Castagnole in Emilia Romagna and Friuli Venezia Giulia, while in Venezia they are called Frìtole.

These Italian fried dough balls are similar but not the same: the dough varies slightly from region to region and also the shape can change slightly. The regional recipes want the addition of different ingredients such as raisins, ricotta, liqueur, apple or cinnamon, according to local traditions.

Fried Carnival balls of dough are the protagonists of Italians tables during the Carnival festivities, together with the crunchy Chiacchiere.

tortelli di carnevale

The main feature of these delicious Tortelli di Carnevale is that they are hollow inside. In fact during frying they will increase in volume, remaining hollow inside. This way you can fill them, to make them even more delicious, with the Italian Pastry Cream or Diplomat Cream.

Tortelli however are delicious even simple, thanks to their softness and the citrus flavour given by the lemon zest.

Now try to make these delicious Carnival fritters, following our recipe step by step!

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How to Make Tortelli di Carnevale Recipe

  • Prep Time:30 min
  • Cook Time:20 min
  • Servings: 8 people/about 60 pieces


  • 150 g (5,3 oz) of “00” flour
  • 90 g ( 3,2 oz) of unsalted butter
  • 250 ml of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fine salt
  • 5 whole medium eggs at room temperature
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 liter of vegetable oil for frying
  • 150 g ( 5,3 oz ) granulated sugar for sprinkling


tortelli di carnevale step 1

Step 1) – Pour water, butter and salt in a saucepan with high sides. Now turn on the heat and bring to a boil.

tortelli di carnevale step 2Step 2) – As soon as it start boiling, remove the saucepan from the heat and pour in the flour all at once. Stir quickly and vigorously to combine all the ingredients.

tortelli di carnevale step 3

Step 3) – When you have a homogeneous and smooth mixture, put the saucepan on low heat again. Mix for a few minutes until you see the bottom of the pan become whitish; this step is for drying out the dough. Now the dough comes off all in a block and must be compact, smooth and soft.

tortelli di carnevale step 4

Step 4) – Put the tortelli dough in a bowl and let it cool a little. Then work the dough with an electric mixer and start adding the eggs one at a time at room temperature. This step is very important for the success of the tortelli di carnevale recipe. So add an egg, let it be completely blend and then add another egg.

tortelli di carnevale step 5

Step 5) – Add grated lemon zest and then knead the dough until you get a smooth homogeneous consistency.

How to Fry Dough Balls

tortelli di carnevale step 6

Step 6) – Heat the oil in a medium frying pan with high sides. It must reach the temperature of 170 ° C (340 F). Now keep it constant with the help of a kitchen thermometer. If you don’t use the thermometer, place a little of dough in the frying oil. When you see bubbles forming around the piece of dough it means that the oil is ready. That said, take two teaspoons: with one, collect some dough from the bowl and with the other let it fall into the hot oil.

tortelli di carnevale step 7

Step 7) – Fry 5-6 Tortelli at a time, turning them often until golden brown. It’ll take about 3-4 minutes. Be careful to keep the temperature constant. If during frying, you keep the oil temperature too high, you risk browning the Tortelli quickly on the outside, leaving them raw on the inside. Drain them with a slotted spoon and place them on absorbent kitchen paper.

tortelli di carnevale step 8

Step 8) – Roll them in granulated sugar when they are still hot, otherwise the sugar does not stick well to the Tortelli surface.

How to Store Tortelli di Carnevale

Keep Tortelli di Carnevale in a cool place, in a food container with a lid for 1 day. You can also make the tortelli dough 1 day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator covered in cling film, in contact with the dough surface. NO freezing.

Tortelli di Carnevale Greedy Variant

The peculiarity of Tortelli di Carnevale is that during frying they increase in volume and are emptied inside. A hollow forms inside them that can be filled with any filling you like. In the city of Milan it is customary to fill Carnival Tortelli with pastry cream. So let’s see how to do it!

tortelli di carnevale filled with pastry cream

When your Italian fried dough balls are ready, roll them in sugar. Wait for them to cool before stuffing. So fill a pastry syringe with pastry cream. Make a small hole in tortelli and stuff it. Since the tortelli are very delicate and very light, be careful not to break them during the filling.

PutTortelli filled with Pastry Cream on a serving tray and enjoy them with friends and family. You will see that everyone will go crazy but will not know which ones to prefer: empty or stuffed?

tortelli di carnevale

NOTE for the Dough: Water and NO Sugar

The dough of Tortelli Lombardi is very similar to the one for Bignè, called Pasta Choux. The mixture must be very light with a neutral flavor. Many use milk instead of water or half a dose of water and half of milk. Others also add a little icing sugar to the dough. But these ingredients are useless for the perfect success of Tortelli di Carnevale alla Milanese and only make them heavier and too much sweet.

The sugar at the end of preparation flavours them, when you coat them in it after frying. Better if you stuff them with pastry cream. Fried dough balls must only be flavoured with butter and lemon zest, no sugar inside.

Tortelli di Carnevale History and Curiosities

Tradition says that Tortelli were born to remember St. Joseph on his feast day, March 19. They later became a symbol of the craziest days of the year: il Carnevale Italiano.

In fact, it is said that the carpenters, on the occasion of the celebrations for their patron saint, offered the apprentices these fried dough balls to remember Giuseppe, who was apparently not only a good carpenter but also a skilled fryer.

In ancient times, people considered them as an auspicious dessert, as the hope of a year without hunger. So even today they are a symbol of good wishes. Share them with friends; they are so irresistible that your guests will eat them one after the other!

tortelli di carnevale

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