As with most cultures, Italians have their share of celebrations. And where there is cause to celebrate, there is always food. Take, for example, March 19th. For the average North American, it’s the day before spring. In my world it meant Zeppole di San Giuseppe.
Only as an adult did I truly appreciate how food, tradition and culture form some sort of “triforce”. Family gatherings were centered around a celebration that always included food. Some celebrations were obvious (like Christmas and Easter), but some might be unknown to many North Americans.
March 19th, for example, is a day to celebrate Saint Joseph, protector of the family and father of all fathers. In Italy, it is also Father’s Day.
Saint Joseph’s day celebrations always included this sweet Neapolitan treat, hence the name, Zeppole di San Giuseppe or Saint Joseph’s Zeppole. Zeppole can also be referred to as bignè di San Giuseppe.
Did you know that March 19th is also the name day to honor anyone named Giuseppe (Joseph)? Another reason to celebrate!
A few weeks before March 19th, Italian pastry shops here in Montreal, will begin to mass produce the extremely popular zeppole. There is however, one café in Montreal that will serve this wonderful pastry year round, just follow this link for the address.
Around the dinner table, family and friends start arguing (in a nice way) about who makes the best zeppole, and which is the better filling: ricotta or Italian pastry cream.
The original Neapolitan treat was made with a lemon infused pastry cream piped over a fried (in lard – gasp!) shell, and topped with an amarena (which is basically a sour cherry in a sweet syrup).
Nowadays, a variety of fillings are offered, with the most popular being a sweetened ricotta. Thankfully, a healthier, baked version of the shell is also available.
I will share with you my attempt to honor the tradition of Zeppole di San Giuseppe by making the Neapolitan version of this dessert – minus the part about frying in lard -no way that was happening! I baked mine.
How to make Zeppole:
As you may have guessed, Zeppole di San Giuseppe is the product of two recipes – the choux pastry and the pastry cream.
Let’s get started with the choux pastry:
In a large heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the water and butter to a rolling boil.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the dry ingredients (flour, salt and sugar) all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients and return the saucepan to the stove. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir continuously until mixture forms a smooth ball.
Transfer mixture to the bowl of your stand mixture (if using) or in a large mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment or hand held blender (or the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon) beat the mixture for a few minutes in order for it to cool down.
The next step involves adding the eggs, one at a time. Make sure to properly incorporate each egg before adding the next one. Notice how the batter becomes very smooth and satiny in appearance. So, once again, really beat those eggs!
The next step involves transferring the choux dough in a pastry bag. I like to set mine up in a tall glass… it makes makes the whole process a little easier a lot less messier…
Ideally, you should pipe little nests that are about 3” in diameter. Make sure to make the hole in the middle about 1½ inches.
The only thing left to do is to bake them and once they have cooled off fill them up with some wonderful pastry cream.
If you are interested in a gluten-free zeppole, be sure to click on the link.
The recipe for the Pastry Cream can be found by just clicking on the link.
Origins of the Recipe For Zeppole di San Giuseppe:
The neighborhood I grew up in had a wonderful pastry shop that specialized in zeppole, and so this was a yearly treat for us. I thought it would be fun to make this recipe. As was mentioned, there are two parts to this recipe. The lemon infused pastry cream recipe was one that my Mom would often make for desserts (ex. Italian Cake.) I made the pastry shell using a basic recipe that I’ve been using for years to make cream puffs. The next time I make these, I will definitely use a larger star tip (I’m thinking 1/2 inch tip) in order for the pretty ridges to keep their shape once they are baked. (I think I was the only one that noticed the lack of ridges in the zeppole. They were so good that they quickly dissapppeard.)
A big hug goes out to all the Giuseppe’s, Joseph’s, Joe’s, Joey’s, Giuseppina’s, Josie’s, Yossef’s, Yusuf’s, José’s and Peppino’s! (And all the spellings in between!)
Happy Name Day!
Zeppole di San Giuseppe
- 1 cup flour all-purpose
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup butter room temperature
- 4 eggs room temperature
- 12 amarene cherries
- icing sugar
- Preheat oven to 400℉. Place rack in the center of oven.
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together flour, salt and sugar. Set aside.
- In a large heavy saucepan, over medium high heat, combine water and butter. Bring to a boil.
- Remove saucepan from heat.
- Add flour mixture all at once, and stir with wooden spoon.
- Lower heat to medium low.
- Return saucepan to the stove and continue to stir until mixture forms a smooth ball (1-2 minutes).
- Remove from heat.
- Transfer mixture to the bowl of stand mixer or large mixing bowl.
- Let cool for about 2 minutes.
- Beat with paddle attachment or hand held mixture for a few minutes in order to cool down the mixture (1-2 minutes).
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Spoon dough into pastry bag fitted with open star tip.
Pipe dough into 3" nests on parchment paper.
- Place in pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown.
During last 5 minutes of baking, leave the oven door ajar.
Remove the pastry shells from the oven and carefully cut in half.
- When shells are cool, use pastry bag fitted open star tip to pipe pastry cream onto the shells; cover with the top and pipe another tablespoon or so.
- Top with an amarena (cherry) and a dusting of icing sugar.
Thanks for dropping by.
Ciao for now!