One of the best things about moving to a different country is adopting a whole set of new festivals. The Italian year is peppered with Saints' days and, as with all special occasions in Italy, each prompts the making/eating of a specific foodstuff.
Father’s day in Italy is celebrated on St Joseph’s day, the 19th March. Joseph is – perhaps obviously – the patron saint of fathers and the Catholic calendar follows this principle, whilst in the UK we follow the Americans and celebrate on the third Sunday of June. I’m not sure there are any traditional Father’s Day foods in the UK (at least none that I know of) but in many parts of Italy (Rome and Naples specifically) a special type of zeppole is made and eaten.
Zeppole are generally a sort of deep fried doughnut-style food (more often shaped in spirals or piped) which crop up in various shapes and sizes for traditional festivities all over Italy. Those associated with San Giuseppe are special in that they contain thick, yellow pastry cream and are topped with a glossy sour cherry. The pastry itself is not a yeasted dough but a choux pastry. The texture once baked is – predictably- like a profiterole but the fried version is something a little special. Fried choux is a revelation.
Last year my friends spent the Spring in Rome for work, and sent me an endless stream of whatsapp photos from their Pasticceria adventures. They made sure to try a string of different Zeppole, in preparation to escort me to the best one as soon as I arrived, as I had my ticket booked to go and teach a cooking class at a friend’s school in Trastevere. Then Covid happened and my flights and class were cancelled, as were all dreams of tasting Zeppole di San Giuseppe.
This year, however, I made them here in Sardinia, and thinking of my (very) English dad at home in England, no doubt either talking to the dog, digging in the garden, or pouring himself a large gin, as is his want.
Traditionally zeppole are fried, but you can bake them too, and as this recipe is based around a choux pastry both options work well. I opted to bake half and to fry half, just for variety and also to see which one I preferred (try to guess which was the favourite….)
Makes around 6 Zeppole
For the pastry:
150g plain (or 00) flour
A pinch of salt
For the pastry cream:
400ml whole milk
4 egg yolks
A few drops of vanilla extract/ scraped seeds from a half a pod
1 strip of lemon peel
Fabri Amarena Sour cherries/Sour cherry jam
To Make the Cream:
First make the pastry cream (this can be done a few days in advance as it keeps well in the fridge).
Bring the milk to a scald with the strip of lemon peel and vanilla. In a bowl whisk the yolks with the sugar and cornflour.
Once at a scald, pour the milk into the egg mixture in a steady stream, whisking all the time. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until you have a thick custard. Remove and allow to cool before decanting into a piping bag fitted with fluted nozzle, ready to use.
To Make the Zeppole:
Warm the butter and the water in a saucepan and bring just to the boil. Add the flour in and whisk over a medium heat. Continue stirring over a medium heat for a few minutes, until the paste is smooth and shiny and comes away from the edges of the an in one uniform lump.
Remove from the heat transfer into a bowl and allow to cool. Once cool beat in the eggs (this will take A LOT of arm work, or you can use an electric beater), a little at a time, until you have a smooth, shiny paste.
Decant the paste into a piping bag fitted with a fluted nozzle.
Preheat the oven to 200. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and pipe circles of the pastry onto the tray.
Bake for 25 minutes.
If frying: pipe rings of pastry onto individual squares of greaseproof paper, and then heat your oil to 190. Drop the zeppole in one at a time, on their squares (the squares will release as they cook and you can fish them out) Turn them over as they fry to make sure you get an even golden colour all over, then remove and leave to drain on kitchen paper before filling.
Once cool, pipe the pastry cream into the centre of the zeppole, then top with a sour cherry and a little syrup and dust with icing sugar. Serve.