Bombolonis with Limoncello Cream

Have you ever had a meal that sticks with you for years to follow? Mine includes bombolonis, an Italian-style brioche donut, filled with silky cream, and I’ve been dreaming of making them at home ever since I tasted them.

About 4 1/2 years ago, we had just moved to Nashville and my cousin and his wife were visiting. We had heard endless recommendations about a new restaurant in an up-and-coming neighborhood called Rolf and Daughters. We waited outside in very cold weather until a table opened up in the dreamy, brick-walled, dimly lit restaurant and we were seated in a table just close enough to the kitchen to be warmed by the heat emanating from the stoves and to take a peek at every dish coming into the dining area. I remember the meal in snapshots- vibrant green cocktails peppered with jalapeño, dark, tannic red wine, two or three dishes with pork and whatever vegetable was popping up on Tennessee farms that week (all of which tasted completely differently, but all exceptional). As we were eating, we kept seeing roasted chicken after roasted chicken, balanced on the shoulder’s of servers coming out of the kitchen. We wondered amongst ourselves about the kind of person who orders roasted chicken at a restaurant with so many more diverse options on the menu, but our curiosity finally got the best of us and we asked our waiter, “What’s with all the roasted chicken?”. “It’s unlike any other roasted chicken,” he replied, “It’s the best I’ve ever had”. We were sold and even though our stomachs didn’t really need chicken, our mouths did. Our waiter was right, it was the best chicken I’d ever eaten. Happy that we didn’t miss out on the chicken, we finished the meal with bombolonis, tennis ball sized rounds of brioche, fried and filled with the perfect pastry cream.

A few years, and two cities later, Bon Appetite published the recipe for the Rolf and Daughters Garlic Confit Chicken in the now-retired R.S.V.P section of their magazine and the splattered, torn sheet of magazine paper still hangs from my refrigerator, a daily reminder of that night, that chicken, and those little bombolonis.

When I started doing research for the brioche dough for the donuts, I stumbled on a recipe from Thalia Ho at Butter and Brioche. I intended to use it as my starting point, testing and tweaking as I went, but after making them once, I couldn’t find anything that needed changing. For this recipe, I simply adapted her recipe to reflect both metric and U.S. measurements and rounded out a few ingredients to make it a little easier for a home baker without a scale. (And if you haven’t already, check out Thalia’s blog and Instagram. Her work is whimsical and unique and her photography is stunning!)

Bombolonis with Limoncello Cream

Yield: 13 filled donuts


for the brioche dough: 

200 ml (1 3/4 cup) whole milk

14 g (3 tsp) active dry yeast

530 g (3 3/4 cup) all purpose flour 

60 g (1/4 cup) sugar

1 1/4 tsp salt

3 eggs, at room temperature

113 g (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

for frying: 

1 L vegetable oil, for frying 

Granulated sugar for coating donuts

for the limoncello cream: 

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

5 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

1 1/4 cup sugar

7 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp butter, cubed

1 tbsp limoncello 

1 lemon, juiced and zested


to make the limoncello cream: 

  1. Combine milk, cream, and lemon zest in a medium saucepan and heat until it begins to simmer and small bubbles form around the outer edge of the pan. 

  2. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add eggs and egg yolks and whisk to form a paste. 

  3. Temper (slowly stream) hot milk into the egg paste, stirring continually. Add egg/milk mixture back to the saucepan and return to heat- keep stirring! 

  4. Cook over low-medium heat until the mixture begins to boil. Continue to cook for one minute longer. Remove from heat and strain into a clean bowl. 

  5. Add butter, limoncello, and lemon juice, whisking to combine. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of pastry cream and chill. 

*This pastry cream can keep up to a week in a sealed container in the refrigerator. You won’t use all of the cream to fill the donuts and you can use the leftovers to fill a cake, make the base of a souffle, or experiment with tarts or Gateau Basque. 

to make the brioche: 

  1. Heat milk in a medium saucepan until warmed to 110 degrees. Remove from heat and transfer to a glass measuring cup. Add yeast and stir to combine. Let proof for 5 minutes, until yeast is frothy. 

  2. While the yeast is proofing, combine flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on lowest setting, just until combined. 

  3. With the mixture on medium-low speed, stream milk into the mixer and continue mixing until a shaggy mass forms. With the mixer running, add eggs, one at a time, making sure each is incorporated before adding the next. Set the mixer to medium speed and let the dough knead for 5 minutes. 

  4. When the dough has formed a smooth ball, begin adding the butter, a tablespoon at a time until completely incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and knead for another 5-6 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. (This is maybe the prettiest dough I’ve ever made!)

  5. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a towel. Let proof in a warm place for about an hour, until doubled in size. After the dough has doubled, punch the dough dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill overnight. 

to assemble and fry the donuts: 

  1. Turn the chilled brioche dough out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough into a circle about 1 inch in thickness. Use a circular cutter to cut out as many donuts as possible from the dough. Press the scraps together and re-roll one more time to the same thickness and repeat the donut cutting. 

  2. Place donuts on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with a towel and proof for 20 minutes while you heat the oil. 

  3. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan heat oil to 350 ℉. Place sugar in a medium bowl and place a cooling rack over a sheet pan lined with paper towels. 

  4. Fry off the donuts, 2-3 at a time by placing the donuts in the oil using a mesh strainer or slotted spoon. Fry to 1 1/2-2 minutes, until golden brown and then use chopsticks to gently flip donuts. Fry for another 1-2 minutes, remove from the oil and place on cooling rack. Repeat until all donuts are fried.

  5. When cooled enough to handle, but still warm, toss donuts in the sugar. 

  6. To fill the donuts, use a sharp knife to cut a small hole in one side of each donut. Place the limoncello cream in a piping bag or large ziploc bag with a hole cut in the corner and pipe cream into donuts. Enjoy immediately!