Saint Joseph’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Joseph’s, is March 19. It is a celebratory day for Catholics and Italians, especially in cities where there is a large population of Italian-Americans. Like many American holidays, it’s all about the food.
Saint Joseph’s Day Zeppole, known as Zeppole Di San Giuseppe in Italy, is similar to a cream puff. The pastry can be fried or baked, then filled with a sweet custard cream or ricotta filling (these pastries are called sfingi), dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and topped with a sour cherry. I picked up a container of Amarena cherries in heavy syrup from Cavallari’s the other day, with these pastries in mind. Amarena cherries have a distinct flavor. They are grown in northern Italy and can be a bit bitter or sour. The cherries are almost dark burgundy or purple in color and are preserved in heavy syrup. You can find them in Italian specialty shops. Maraschino cherries or cherry jam works, too, if you can’t find Amarena cherries.
In my recipe for Saint Joseph’s Day Zeppole, I bake the cream puffs, scoop out the centers when cool, then fill them with a custard cream. In most Sicilian and Napoletana recipes, a tablespoon of grated lemon and orange rind is added to the pastry batter. The cream, too, can be flavored with dark rum or amaretto, but I like just plain vanilla. In ricotta filled pastries, known as sfingi, mini chocolate chips and grated orange peel are common.
This recipe makes 12 small or about 8 large pastry shells. I make 8 most of the time; one for each of us.
Happy Saint Joseph’s Day!
Saint Joseph's Day Zeppole Recipe
- 1 cup hot water
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
- 5 egg yolks slightly beaten
- confectioners' sugar
- Amarena or Maraschino cherries
To make the pastry:
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a medium saucepan, boil the water with the butter, salt and sugar. Add the flour all at once and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the sides without sticking, about 1 minute.
- Remove the pan from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a medium size bowl. Using an electric mixture, beat in eggs, one at a time, until mixture is smooth.
- Using an ice cream scoop or a large cookie scoop, drop 8 large or 12 small pastries onto parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 20-25, or until pastries are a medium golden brown.
- Remove the pastries from the oven and make a small slit in the top of each one to let steam escape. Return to the oven for 5 more minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely.
To make the custard filling:
- In the top of a double boiler, whisk together flour, corn starch, sugar, and salt. Slowly whisk in milk and vanilla. Cook until mixture is thick and bubbly. Remove from heat.
- In a small bowl, slightly beat 5 egg yolks. Rapidly stir in one cup of the hot custard. Continue to stir until well blended. Transfer egg mixture to custard and whisk until blended. Cook for 3 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Cover custard with plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled through.
- Slice each pastry in half and scoop out the center; fill with the chilled custard and replace tops. Dust with powdered sugar. Top with cherries.
I shared this recipe at these fantastic parties.