Zeppole Di San Giuseppe

Zeppole Di San Giuseppe are a traditional Italian pastry made to celebrate St Joseph’s Day on the 19th of March, which is also when Italian people celebrate Father’s Day.

St. Joseph, or San Giuseppe, is known for being Jesus “adoptive” father and the patron saint of Sicily. The Feast of Saint Joseph, began as a thanksgiving celebration for the saving the island of Sicily from a drought during the Middle Ages. The people promised St. Joseph they’d cook a big feast for him if he brought rain. When it rained, a tradition was born.

The original staple of the St. Joseph’s Day meal was the fava bean, which was what had saved the Sicilians from starvation. The fava bean was eventually replaced with a much richer and delicious dessert, the Zeppola. The origin is this new tradition is not certain as some give credit to the convent of Santa Patrizia in Naples with making the first baked Zeppole in the 16th century, however others credit Pasquale Pintauro, a 19th century baker from Naples, for making them popular by selling them from a street cart every 19th of March.

All that said, you don’t have to just enjoy this treat once a year, they can be easily made at home with a few staple ingredients.

Zeppole are an Italian choux dough pastry. They are made the same way you would make cream puffs and eclairs, which is by cooking water with butter and flour and then beating in eggs. The dough is then fried (or baked) and filled/topped with a crème patisserie, a cherry and sprinkled with icing sugar.

The hardest part of this recipe is the cooking, you need to ensure you have the temperature just right. When frying, if the oil is too hot, you’ll end up overcooking the outside and the inside will still be raw and doughy, on the other hand if the oil is not hot enough, the zeppola will not cook properly and collapse on itself when cooling. Same goes for baking, its imperative that you do not open the oven door during the baking process or you’ll end up with a collapsed mess!

As I have mentioned before in the Arancini post, I am petrified of frying and I avoid it as much as I can. However, I make an exception for these as I find frying them much easier to get them right. The optimum temperature for frying the zeppole is 165° Celsius, a thermometer is a must for me when frying, and keeping the heat on medium to make sure the temperature stays stable.

Zeppole are best eaten on the day, however if you do not think you will eat them all, do not fill them with the cream (which needs to be stored in the fridge). Store your unfilled zeppole in an airtight container for up to 2 days and re-crisp them in a low oven for 5 minutes on the day you intend to use them. Or you can also store any uncooked pastry dough in an airtight container (or piping bag) in the fridge for up to 2 days.

For the Zeppole you will need:

  • 250ml Water
  • 70g Butter
  • 150g Plain Flour
  • 40g Sugar
  • 3 Eggs (medium)
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Rind of one Lemon
  • Oil (to fry)
  • Cherries in syrup (or glace)
  • Icing Sugar (to decorate)

For the Crème Patisserie you will need:

  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 500ml Milk
  • 3Tbsp Cornflour (or Plain Flour)
  • 3Tbsp Sugar
  • Rind of Half a Lemon

Start by making the Crème Patisserie first as you’ll want this to cool down and set

Place the egg yolks, cornflour, and sugar in a pan and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Add the lemon rind and slowly incorporate the milk.

Turn the heat on to a slow/medium heat and stir slowly and constantly.

Increase the stirring speed slightly as it starts to thicken.

When it has been boiling for a few minutes turn the heat off and let it cool down. Stir a few times as it cools to prevent a film forming. Crème Patisserie lasts 3 days in the fridge so you can make the cream the evening before if you prefer. You will notice from my photo that my cream is quite soft, that’s a personal preference. Some people prefer a much thicker cream that they can pipe, if that’s what you prefer, cook for longer and add another tablespoon of cornflour.

To make the dough, place the flour, sugar, salt and lemon rind in a bowl, mix and set aside.

Pour the water and butter in a pan, heat on a slow heat until the butter has melted and the water starts boiling.

Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until it is all amalgamated and resembles a ball, it should leave a very thin layer of dough onto the base of the pan. Turn the heat off and place in a clean bowl to let it cool slightly.

While the dough is cooling, cut 12 pieces of parchment/greaseproof paper approx. 5” square (you don’t have to be precise with this) and place each piece on the work surface. Prepare your piping bag but adding a star nozzle. You can use a tall glass or vase to hold your piping bag to make it filling it easier. You can use reusable or disposable piping bags for this. As I have to use disposable ones in my everyday job, that is what I used for this project, however reusable ones are much easier to grip and use (plus better for the environment).

Start adding the eggs, one at the time. When you add the eggs, it will look like the dough has split, that is totally normal, keep mixing and it will come together again. Do this until all 3 eggs and additional yolk has been used.

Now if you are deep frying your zeppole, fill a pan with oil and start heating. Or if you prefer to use the oven start preheating it now (see * section below).

You are now ready to fill your piping bag and pipe your zeppole.

Pipe a circle about 4” in circumference (again, this is just a rough guide). Once you have piped the first circle, pipe another one directly on top. Repeat this until all the dough has been used. You should get around 12 zeppole.

When the oil has reached the perfect temperature, place the zeppole on the greaseproof paper into the oil, after a few seconds the paper will come off the zeppole and you can remove it using a pair of tongs or a fork (be very careful when removing as the oil is extremely hot!)

Fry a maximum of 2 zeppole at the time, turning them using a slotted spoon so each side has a chance to brown. Each zeppole should take 5-6 minutes to cook. Once ready, lift out and place on a kitchen paper tissue to absorb any excess oil. Repeat until all the zeppole are cooked and leave to cool completely.

*If you prefer to bake your zeppole, preheat the oven at 200° Celsius. Place the zeppole on their greaseproof sheet on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 190° Celsius and bake for an additional 15 minutes. After that time, turn the oven off and open the door slightly, you can use a wooden spoon to keep it open, and let the zeppole cool in the oven.

When the zeppole are cooled, it’s time to fill them and decorate them. Fill a piping bag with the previously made crème patisserie, (you can use a star nozzle if you prefer to pipe a swirly pattern on top) and fill the centre. Top with a cherry and sprinkle with icing sugar.

I absolutely love seeing what you’ve created, so if you do make this recipe (or any other items from my website) don’t forget to tag me over on my social media pages

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