Saturday, March 16, 2013

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

The feast of Saint Joseph is celebrated on March 19 throughout Italy and the feast wouldn't be complete without zeppole de San Giuseppe, sometimes called sfinge or bigné. Italy also celebrates Father's Day on March 19 as well as Saint Joseph, spouse of the blessed Virgin Mary.

The zeppole are round to symbolize the family and are made with the same dough that's used for cream puffs. They can be fried or baked and are topped with either pastry cream, or in some cases, a sweetened ricotta mixture. In the region of Puglia, a dollop of chocolate crowns the zeppole, as in the photo above. 

But in many other areas, including Naples, they're decorated with a sour amarena cherry that's been soaked in a sugar syrup. 

For many years, I've been wanting to make these zeppole to honor the Giuseppe in my own family -- my brother Joe, whose birthday just happens to be the day following the saint's onomastic. This year I finally succeeded. 

I learned even more about the traditions surrounding the day after stopping by D'Angelo's Italian Market, a shop in Princeton, N.J.
The owner, Anna D'Angela, originally from Sicily, where Saint Joseph is the patron saint, said that the "tavolata di San Giuseppe," or St. Joseph's table, is an overflowing table of foods that is always prepared for the day in her home town near Palermo. It all began following a severe drought in the Middle Ages, when Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph for water from the heavens to grow their crops. After their prayers were answered with rain, each year they honor the saint with the tavolata, preparing "tutto quello che esiste" (everything that exists), including every type of fruit and vegetable and fish. Fava beans, the one crop that kept the population from starvation during the drought, is always part of the feast. To this day, many Italians pray to St. Joseph to ask for divine intervention for loved ones who are ill, and promise to prepare “La Tavolata” as a sign of thanks.  A priest will bless the food and some towns have a communal table, where everyone is invited to share in the bounty.
photo courtesy of D'Angelo Italian Market, Princeton
Anna explained that aside from the zeppole and sfinge, pasta con sarde (sardines) is another traditional dish for the day in Sicily. D'Angelo's will carry some of these specialties for the holiday, but its shelves and counters are chock-full every day, with many wonderful Italian groceries and freshly made in-house treats. If you live anywhere in the central New Jersey area, do yourself a favor and stop by her shop on Spring Street for a myriad of other specialty items that are hard to find elsewhere. 

But not everyone lives near Princeton, N.J., or even an Italian pastry shop. So courtesy of Kathy of Food Lover's Odyssey, here's a recipe to make your own zeppole di San Giuseppe. Kathy's recipe calls for frying the dough, and I have to admit that after trying a half dozen times, I failed and ended up with greasy orbs that were uncooked in the center. Having made cream puffs in the past, I knew this dough would bake up nicely in the oven. So I shifted gears and preheated the oven to 425 degrees.

Twenty minutes later, this is what I got.
They're a bit tricky and time-consuming to make, but if you prepare the pastry cream the night before, it doesn't take that long. They're best eaten right after you fill them, but they'll keep in the fridge for a few hours too -- if they last that long. 

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

From Food Lover's Odyssey
printable recipe here
Zeppole di San Giuseppe

(makes about 12)
Notes: This made more than 12 zeppole for me, (more like 16) but I think mine were smaller than Kathy's of Food Lover's Odyssey. I also had a lot of pastry cream and chocolate ganache left over -- not a bad thing in my book.  I started out frying the zeppole, but couldn't get it right and they were too greasy, so I switched to baking them - in a 425 degree preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes. That worked much better.
For the dough (choux paste):

1 ½ cups (350 ml) water

6 tablespoons (80 grams) butter, cubed

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 1/3 (180 grams) cup all-purpose flour

5 eggs

6 to 8 cups of peanut oil for frying

For the pastry cream:

3 ¼ cups (750 ml) whole milk

Rind of one lemon (only the rind, not the pith)

8 egg yolks

2/3 cup (160 grams) granulated sugar

Scan 1/2 cup (50 grams) cornstarch

3 1/2 tablespoons (25 grams) all purpose flour

4 tablespoons (55 grams) butter, cubed

For the chocolate ganache:

4 1/2 ounces (150 grams) dark couveture chocolate, finely chopped

2/3 cup (150 ml) heavy cream
To make the choux paste: 
In a saucepan, bring the water, butter, sugar and salt to a rolling
boil. (It's important that the butter is in small cubes, so it melts and
combines with the water before the mixture comes to a boil.)  Add the
flour all at once, and remove from the heat.  Stir until all the flour
is combined.  Place back the mixture back on the stove and stir over
medium heat for about 5 minutes to dry out the mixture.  Remove from the
heat and, after allowing the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, add the
eggs one at a time.  Stir in each egg completely before adding the next.

I a deep pot, heat the oil to 360° F (180° C).  Place the choux paste
into a piping bag attached with a 14mm star tip (the tip opening should
be about 1/2 inch in diameter).  Cut 4X4-inch squares of parchment
paper.  Pipe the choux paste onto the parchment paper, making rings that
are little smaller than the paper, 3 1/2 inches in diameter.  (I
actually piped little "snails" filling the center, but it wasn't
necessary as the dough rises quite a bit as it fries, leaving only a
small hole in the center.)  Place the choux paste and parchment paper
into the oil.  Once the dough starts frying, the paper will fall away
easily; then remove it from the pan.  Fry the zeppole about 4 minutes on
each side. Depending on the pan size, fry only 2 or 3 zeppole at a
time, so you don't lower the temperature of the oil.  Once the zeppole
are cooked through, place on paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with
powdered sugar once they've cooled slightly.

To make the pastry cream:  Place the milk and the lemon rind in a nonreactive heavy bottom sauce pot and leave for 20 minutes.  Then bring the milk to a scald.  Let the lemon rind steep in the milk for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, in another bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until the mixture becomes pale.  (The whisk must be nonreactive also.) Add the cornstarch and flour and whisk to combine.
Strain the lemon rind out of the milk, and slowly pour the warmed milk into the egg yolk mixture.  Whisking together as you pour.  Once all the milk and egg yolk mixtures are combined, place back into the saucepot and over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, whisking vigorously the entire time.  Once the mixture has boiled, cook for another 2 minutes, again stirring the entiring time.  Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh seive.  Add the butter to the top of the pastry cream, stirring in once the butter has melted. Place the bowl into an ice bath and let cool for 10 minutes.  Spread the pastry cream into a 9x13-inch glass dish and cover with plastic wrap.  The plastic wrap should be touching the pastry cream to keep the cream from developing a film.  Refrigerate until cold.
To make the chocolate ganache: Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.  In a sauce pot, heat the cream just until it's scalding (little bubbles appear around the rim).  Pour the cream over the chocolate.  Let the mixture rest for a minute, then slowly whisk together.  To create a smooth ganache, place the whisk in the center of the mixture and whisk in a small, slow, circular motion until the chocolate and cream combine.  Let the ganache cool and thicken just to the point that it will hold its form when it's piped.
To assemble the zeppole:  Place the pastry cream into a piping bag fitted with a 12mm star tip.  Into the center of each zeppole, pipe the pastry cream.  I piped a generous two "snail-shaped" circles of pastry cream, one on top of the other.  Place the ganache into a piping bag fitted with a 10mm star tip.  Pipe a small ring of ganache on the top center of each zeppole.  They are best minutes after they've been garnished, and should be eaten the day they've been made.  Enjoy!
NOTE:  To make the Neapolitan version, with a cherry topping instead of the chocolate one, you need a jar of amarena cherries, or another type of sour cherries, in syrup.  Drain some of the syrup from the cherries, and top each zeppole with one cherry.


  1. Just gorgeous! I've made the Roman variation called bignè but these are no such prettier!

  2. Linda, they are so pretty. I did not realize at first you had opted to bake, rather than fry. Well, I'll forgive you that! But from what you have written, I think you made a smart choice, and isn't it nice to know that if at first you can not fry, you can bake and still have a great treat.

    Oh, I want one! Your brother must really have been touched.

    I have heard of La Tavolata - sort of the Sicilian version of our American groaning board, huh>?

    Your zeppole are gorgeous! Bravissima!!!

  3. I have to make another trip to D'Angelo's, that was such a nice market...........and thanks for reminding me to make Henry pasta con sarde on St. Joseph's day, he loves it!

    yay sardines!

  4. Those zeppole look amazing! What an exquisite pastry.



  5. I am what you call speechless!

    Not to mention impressed.

  6. Sono veramente bellissime queste zeppole, Linda. Proprio stupende! E quella tavolata al centro sociale lascia senza fiato!! :D Complimenti di cuore e un bacione!

  7. Tony just saw these and he's drooling, wants me to make them tonight! haha. I don't think mine would turn out as perfect as yours, beautiful job, I never tried making them, I just wait a whole year until I can buy them. We've attended many St Joseph's tables, wonderful tradition! I just loved this post, you're the best Linda!

  8. Be still my heart. I am hiding this from my family (for now). They are exquisite! You could open up shop? I have never been successful frying the dough. I always baked them (and been a while). Just a treat for the eyes and tastebuds.

  9. Oh my gosh, Linda, you read my mind. I have been reading numerous recipes on line for Zeppole to make for St. Joseph's Day this week. You did a FANTASTIC job and if I can make them, I hope mine turn out half as beautiful as yours! Here's a link for a 'virtual' online St. Joseph's Day Altar. Buona San Guiseppe Day!



    oops, I forgot the link!

  11. My FIL Giuseppe would love this version of your wonderful looking pastry. Ricotta is certainly one of his favourite fillings. A decorative dollop of chocolate is just perfect Linda.
    I've noted your recipe and shall make it at some point for sure.

    Have a great week,

  12. Nice to learn a bit more about St. Joseph's Day! Zeppole sounds like a delicious tradition. I can't decide which topping I'd want to try first!

  13. Linda, Zeppole are one of my favourite and an Italian bakery nearby makes them all year 'round. Now many of us can make them at home!

  14. Fantastiche le tue zeppole. Bellissima la tavolata. Un abbraccio, buona serata Daniela.

  15. They look lovely and I like that you made an unfried version. Thanks Linda!

  16. Your Zeppole di San giuseppe look so professional, Linda! I will have to try to make these as good Italian bakeries are not that easy to find here --I am missing all my old wonderful Brooklyn pastry shops! My husband loves his zeppole filled with ricotta cream but the pastry cream in yours looks so good!

    Happy St. Joseph's Day!

    PS: My son in law is also named Joseph, as his birthday is a few days after the feast day.

  17. Cara Linda,
    I love Zeppole but this is a Southern sweet and I cannot find it in Tuscany. We use to serve the rice frittelle, very good indeed, but I'm really dreaming of a zeppola with glorious creme and the final cherry!
    Thank you for your lovely message on my Fideuà!
    Tanti baci, Pat

  18. Linda sono bellissimi! Complimenti per le splendide foto!

  19. I love Zeppole! This year I couldn't make them .. yours are wonderful! Bravissima!! Linda!

  20. These are so pretty and they do look delicous. And that photo of the table full of food is amazing. Now I have to visit D'Angelo's again soon!

  21. i admire your making them! they look delish!

  22. They look so delicious! What a wonderful thing to do for your brother. What a great idea to bake them instead!

  23. I've always had a fear of cream puff dough. They rarely ever come out well for me. I have occasionally done them successfully, but never Italian style zeppole. I do have a bakery on my street that makes them if I'm in the mood.

    It's funny about the word zeppole. Where I live they are just as likely to be fried pizza dough (pizza fritta) as they are to be fried or baked pate choux. I had dinner in a new local Italian restaurant recently and zeppole with nutella filling was on the dessert menu. I was expecting something more cream-puff-like, but got fried pizza dough instead. It's all good though.

  24. Your brother had to be thrilled with his gift of Zeppole di San Giuseppe....I know I would be. They look absolutely delicious.

  25. Thank You so much for this. I have been trying to find this for years. When I baked it, it was just like the cream puffs my mom used to make! I am linking this to my blog post for others to enjoy.

  26. Thank You so much for this. I have been trying to find this for years. When I baked it, it was just like the cream puffs my mom used to make! I am linking this to my blog post for others to enjoy.

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