Zeppole di San Giuseppe
Fathers Day and Fritters
March 19th is the day of Saint Giuseppe. It is special in our house because it is my fiancé, Giuseppe’s Saint Day. As with most Saint Day’s in Italy, there is a special sweet treat that we eat to commemorate the day. On March 19th throughout all of Naples, we make the traditional Zeppole of Saint Giuseppe. Zeppole are donut like in texture and appearance and for Saint Giuseppe’s day, we fill these little donuts with pastry cream and top them with Amarena sour cherries.
I had no clue how to make these treasured little fritters so I consulted our neighbor and good friend Silvana who has quickly become my favorite cooking teacher in all of Agerola. She is a true maven in the kitchen. A fount of Neapolitan culinary wisdom, she is passionate and precise. Silvana also happens to be a patient teacher and as she prepared these zeppole with me, she calmly walked through each of their many steps to ensure I had a perfectly authentic recipe.
You will note that I provide ingredient quantities according to the metric system. There are two reasons for this. First the metric system is more precise, and for baking especially, I highly suggest investing in a metric scale to measure your dry ingredients. Secondly, the ratios of flour to sugar to water in all Italian pastry recipes are far easier to remember when using the metric system. Anytime I bake, I use the metric system. It becomes second nature after a few recipes and you will be a more comfortable and confident baker once you convert to the universal metric system.
This recipe has many steps. None of them are particularly complicated. But as with many desserts worth their while, Zeppole of Saint Giuseppe take time. There are four main steps in this recipe: 1) make pastry cream filling 2) make zeppole dough 3) fry zeppole dough 4) assemble zeppole. I would suggest inviting a few friends over on a Sunday afternoon, opening a bottle of wine and making these zeppole together. It becomes a social event and at the end, you have these striking little sweets to eat. They are thoroughly Neapolitan and oh so delicious. Now go buy a baking scale and get cooking.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe
Makes 20 zeppole
Step 1: Pastry Cream
- 1 liter whole milk
- Zest of ½ lemon
- 300 grams sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
- 4 egg yolks
- 100 grams flour
- Warm ¾ of your milk (750 mL) over medium heat until just before boiling. (*Note: Watch out for your milk not to boil or it will create a nice volcanic eruption on your stovetop!)
- While your milk is warming, mix egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds with a wooden spoon in large saucepan. (**Note: Silvana is very emphatic in never using metal to stir your pastry cream because it will impart an off putting metallic flavor).
- Add one spoon full of your reserved cold milk to the egg yolk mixture and mix to incorporate with wooden spoon.
- Add flour and remaining cold milk to egg yolk mixture and stir with wooden spoon to incorporate.
- Add warm milk to egg yolk mixture and stir with wooden spoon to incorporate.
- Place the saucepan of egg yolk/pastry cream mixture over medium heat and stir constantly with wooden spoon for ten minutes until thickened. (***Note: It is vital that you stir constantly, or your pasty cream will curdle).
- As the pastry cream thickens (roughly at the eight minute mark), lower the heat but continue stirring.
- After ten minutes and when the cream is thickened, off heat and remove saucepan.
- Allow the pastry cream to slightly cool and place in a nonreactive bowl.
- Stir pastry cream occasionally with wooden spoon as it cools or an unappetizing film will form on top of the cream.
- Once the pastry cream has reached room temperature you can place it covered in the refrigerator if you plan to make the rest of your zeppole the following day. Be sure that your pastry cream comes to room temperature before assembling your zeppole.
Step 2: Zeppole Dough
- ½ liter water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 50 grams butter (about 3 tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ liter all purpose flour (*Note:We use 00 flour in Italy which is better but I would not suggest splurging on it just for this recipe.)
- 6 large eggs at room temperature
- Bring water, salt, sugar, butter and vanilla to boil over medium heat.
- Remove from heat, add flour and stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate.
- Return mixture to heat and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon until the mixture gathers together in a ball.
- Off heat and dump the dough ball onto a clean (unfloured) work surface (marble is best) and kneed for five minutes until play dough like in texture.
- Allow dough to cool slightly and place in a non-reactive bowl.
- Add one egg at a time to dough and mix thoroughly with hands. Once you have mixed in each egg, your dough is complete.
Step 3: Zeppole Frying
- Cut out Twenty 4” squares of parchment paper and coat each square with a small amount of olive oil, using a pastry brush.
- Once you are ready to fry your zeppole dough, place dough in pastry bag with star shaped tip (7/16” in diameter) and work directly over your parchment cut outs to form rings that are 10cm (about 3 inches) in diameter. For more aesthetic rings make two dough rotations with your pastry bag. You will have 20 zeppole rings on parchment cut-outs when you are finished. (*Note: Depending on how large your pastry bag is, you will need to refill it about 3 times. Fill your pastry bag about ¾ full and it will be easier to handle. I prefer reusable pastry bags as they are easier to handle and better for the environment.)
- Fill two ten inch skillets ¾ full with vegetable oil. Warm one skillet to about 300 degrees and the other two 320 degrees (**Note: Use a candy thermometer to read oil temperatures.)
- When oil has reached temperature, working in batches, place four zeppole with the parchment in the lower temp oil and fry for 7 minutes until just yellow.
- Remove zeppole with tongs from low temp oil.
- Remove parchment from zeppole, place in higher temp oil and fry for an additional 3-5 minutes. You will know your zeppole are done when they puff up to double their original volume and are a rich golden color.
- Place fried zeppole on paper towel lined platter and continue frying in batches until all twenty zeppole are complete.
Step 4: Zeppole Assembly
- 20 Amarena cherries (*Note: Do not use the ubiquitous maraschino cherry. Their flavor and texture are lackluster at best. Use Amarena cherries which can purchased at William Sonoma, Amazon or Whole Foods and come in a cute jar.)
- 1 portion Pastry Cream
- 20 fried Zeppole
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- Strega liquor (optional, but really, really good)
- Place fried zeppole on two parchment lined baking sheets (10 zeppole per baking sheet).
- Place pastry cream in clean pastry bag with star shaped tip (7/16” in dimater) and pump through (rotating as you pump) to form a decorative mount of pastry cream in the center of your zeppole.
- Garnish each zeppola with a cherry
- Sift powdered sugar over zeppole
- Add a little swig of Strega to the zeppole pastry tops if you so desire.
- EAT fast and furiously and abundantly and don’t worry about the powdered sugar dusting you in a festive film.