Mar 19, 2009

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

March 19th is the day of San Giuseppe. On this festive occasion, the Catholic Church honors Joseph, Mary's husband and one heck of a dedicated foster daddy. I like to think that for this reason, Italy conjunctively celebrates Father's Day, and these delicious fritters are the traditional festa fare.

People named Giuseppe are especially lucky here in Italy. On the day of San Giuseppe, their onomastico (saint name day) is enthusiastically celebrated throughout Italy. So auguri to all the Giuseppe, Peppe, Peppino, Beppe, Joseph, and Joe!

San Giuseppe also is the name of these festive zeppole. Pastry shops and local friggitorie – typical deep-fried food stands – churn them at an astonishing rhythm: that's because eating zeppole on March 19th is another one of those traditions that must be observed. 

The dough for Zeppole di San Giuseppe is prepared similarly to that for choux, also known locally as bigné. The main difference lies in the zeppole's lower butter content (healthier) and the cooking procedure: while bigné are baked in the oven, zeppole are instead deep-fried (action which nullifies previously attained health benefit). But why worry about calories? It's Father's Day. time to celebrate.

As promised, here's the recipe, Rosaria.

For the zeppole (yields about a dozen):

200 g (1 cup) all purpose flour, sifted
200 ml (1 cup) water
4 medium eggs
1/2 tsp cornstarch
100 g (1/2) butter, softened

For the creamy filling:

4 leveled tbsp flour, sifted
The rind or 1 small, organic lemon, closely trimmed of white pith
150 gr (3/4-cup) sugar
A vanilla bean (slit open lengthwise and scraped), or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
The yolks of 4 very fresh eggs
500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
2 tbsp confectioner's sugar
A handful of Amarene (sour cherries stored in syrup)

The first thing you should prepare is the custard, crema pasticcera. Boil the milk with the vanilla and the lemon peel. 

In the meantime, lightly whisk the yolks and the sugar in a large mixing bowl to obtain a frothy mixture. Add the flour and keep stirring with a wooden spoon for roughly 4 minutes. Fish out and remove the vanilla pod (if you're using it) and the lemon rind, and combine with the eggy mixture in a deep saucepan.

Continue cooking the custard over mild heat until it barely reaches a slow boil. Count to 120 while stirring constantly and it's done. Note: depending on your eggs and milk, the crema pasticcera may thicken to the proper consistency before it boils. It should reach a point where it roughly resembles the texture of commercially sold firm yogurt.

Transfer the crema pasticcera to a bowl and let it cool, gently stirring it often to keep a "skin" from forming across the top.

Now onto the zeppole. Set the water, butter and a pinch of salt to heat, and when bubbles form on the bottom of the pot (it shouldn't come to a full boil) add the flour in one single swoop and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes. 

Remove from the stove and transfer the mixture to another clean vessel to allow it to cool at room temperature. Stir in the eggs one by one into a smooth, firm and homogeneous dough.

Cut 5-inch squares of parchment or oiled paper, and place on a large work surface.

Stuff the dough in a Ziploc bag and snip off a corner of it, using it as a "sac à poche" pastry chef's pocket. Squeeze out the dough to form 3-inch doughnuts and rest each on the parchment paper squares, keep in the fridge for another 20 minutes.

Frying the zeppole is tricky. Neapolitans insist on this procedure, and I'm reporting it as instructed by an eminent homemaker. 

You need 2 separate frying pans on the burners: in one the oil is warm, the other it is piping hot. In the first warm one, the zeppole puff up and detach from the paper, in the second they turn golden and crisp. 
I suggest you fry 2 zeppole per pan at a time, removing them as they reach the desired golden hue. 

Drain on a paper towel and cool before garnishing: slit them open and slather with your custard, recomposing the "sandwich" on a serving plate. Complete with a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a couple of syrupy amarena sour cherries per fritter. Park on your lap and prepare for ecstasy.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Image © Sarti del Gusto


  1. Oh Lola, you have made me very very very happy.

    I remember my mother making these when I was little; but I have never made me myself because I had no recipe.

    Now, her it is just for me!

    The song, the one about whatever Lola wants...should say instead, Whatever Lola gives, Lola loves

    Did I dedicate a song from my daughter's award-winning CD soon to be discovered by some hot-shot producer, inserted in a commercial of immense fame and........

    Now, if you want her to research any baby lullaby that your grandmother might have sung to you as a baby, she can. She teaches Musicgarden, songs to sing and move together from the time you are born. Neat, right?

    I can't wait to make and eat these goodies. Love and Kisses.

    Ciao, carissima amica bella di Roma.

  2. It seems we are all doing our job to try to explain the Italian culture to non Italians.
    Nice post, and these Zeppole are one of the pleasures in life. But my name is unfortunately not Giuseppe. I imagine Rosaria will be happy.

    Offtopic, though just a bit, I wanted to recommend this post by a North American of Italian descent who explains in a convincing way some subtle secrets of Italian cooking:


  3. Rosaria - le promesse si mantengono! Wait, is Pia the songbird the inspired woman teaching Musicgarden you speak of? My, she is one creative creature. I perused the CD and was soothed my its melacholy and relaxed ambiance. Which song did you want to dedicate? And how can your daughter research old forgotten lullabies? Does she have a special source? Pray tell. In the meantime, buona mangiata di zeppole.

    Manofroma - vero, e il blog ne è solo una parte. Infatti il mio libro (che prego tutti i giorni venga pubblicato) è un manuale di "filosofia" della cucina e cultura casalinga Italiana. Grazie del link, I shall scout it pronto. Ciao

  4. I just emailed my daughter to give her a heads up on St. Guiseppe Day recipes. Her new husband is Italian American and loves real Italian food just like his mamma used to make. I don't think she'll start with this one! But she'll love your blog.

  5. thanks for sharing the recipe and beautiful post.

    Happy Love Thursday!

  6. My comment didn't appear. Hmmm ... wonder what I did wrong?
    Anyway, I turned my daughter on to your blog. She really likes it. She can impress her new husband with knowing about the zeppole tradition.

  7. Fantastico questa cosa del libro!! Spero proprio venga pubblicato. In italiano o in inglese? I hope the latter, for a wider diffusion.
    Ciao (I read your comment on E-talian, thanks)

  8. I'm so glad you posted these today! Mine deflated and became a nice breakfast for the squirrels ;)

  9. Susan - Yes, your daughter should attempt something a little easier for starters and then get promoted to zeppole later on, once she gets the gist of all things Italian in the kitchen. I'm glad she likes the blog, tell her to leave a comment, so we can "meet." Ciao and thanks again for the guest post.

    Manofroma - Si, il libro è scritto in Inglese, e non tanto per la maggiore diffusione (ilché è un bene, ovvio) bensì per sensibilizzare il mondo anglofono sulle verità della nostra cucina. Grazie a te x avermi segnalato e-talian!

    Maryann - Oh, no! Maybe things will billow up better next time. Try to play the double frying pan trick, it works.

  10. Lola, thank you for finding my blog!

    I love yours - so detailed and beautiful, and I can almost smell the cooking - This is a wonderful space, another little taste of la bella Italia for me before I can visit your enchanting country myself. Thank you!

  11. Angie - thank you for stopping by, do come visit again soon, there's many more goodies in store for avid learners of cucina Italiana. Happy San Giuseppe to your hubby!

    Woman - Thank YOU for visiting. Come back soon for more tasty bits of Italia. Ciao!

  12. I totally forgot about St.Joseph's Day and we do try to celebrate it in our home. Thanks for the recipe, In fact, thanks for all these recipes...what a treasure trove:>)

  13. Lola, Hi! I have finally made it over to Italy to visit you.
    What a relationship we are going to have!

    My first love ~ Italian Stallion named Stephano

    My Food of choice ~Italian (always!)

    I Love to cook, and like you said, we have friends in common.

    Grazie, cara Lola.xx

  14. I left you a nice message before. Where is it?

  15. Those zeppole look and sound so delicious. Thanks for popping in to see me - anyone who lists the places where they had memorable meals is definitely my kind of person.

    Only two more months and we'll be spending a week in Venice.

  16. Distracted... - Thank you for that. I love making friends around the dinner table. You're always welcome to come back for more goodies.

    Natalie - Welcome to my humble little cucina! My, we really do have lots in common, all blogland friends aside.

    French Fancy - I love Venice, it is my virtual second home. You should read an earlier post where I sing an ode of love to it.

    I can give you quite a few Venice restaurant/osterie/bacari pointers for your imminent trip. Ciao!