Friday, March 18, 2011

Let's Hear It for St. Joseph! And Zeppole!

Poor St. Joseph! His feast day gets totally eclipsed by St. Patrick. Two days after green beer and corned beef and people still must need to recover!

St. Joseph’s feast day is March 19 and I have such fond childhood memories of commemorating the day that this year I was inspired to make the traditionally symbolic treat that marks the Italian Feast of San Guiseppe – zeppole, the St. Joseph Day doughnut. The way my family made them they’re not really doughnuts, more like doughnut holes. They look like deep fried fritters -- pretty much dough balls! -- coated with confectioner’s sugar and served warm.

What are called zeppoles seems to differ depending on what part of Italy your version originates. In certain parts of Italy, more southern regions, the doughnuts are pretty fancy pastries, piped circles of dough, deep fried filled with cream and decorated with candied fruits and jimmies. Some are more like what I remember but they’re rolled in cinnamon sugar or take a quick dip in honey. It seems the only common denominator in the recipes I explored was deep frying!

I just remember the way my father made them.

But try as I might, I couldn’t find the original recipe and my internet search provided too many options. Some recipes called for ricotta, some included lemon or orange zest, and none of my sisters remembered those ingredients. We all do remember the final step of zeppole-making: shaking the warm little dough balls in paper bags of confectioner’s sugar. And we all remember how my mother would wince when my father announced he was going to make something in the kitchen. She would mildly complain that he knew how to dirty every *%^($# dish and utensil in the kitchen when he wanted to cook! It was quite the event!

The first recipe I tried was cooked on the stove for a little bit and had ricotta in the zeppole. The dough was like thick pancake batter. They tasted pretty good, but they weren’t too pretty. Picture gnarled ginger root rolled in powdered sugar.

The second recipe didn’t have ricotta but had lemon zest and juice. Its pastry was more like pie dough and I needed to use my hands to form balls of dough to fry. They looked good, but instead of being light and fluffy as I imagined – and recalled – they should be, they were pretty dense and too lemony.

And Goldilocks pronounced the third batch just right. The last recipe I tried came from Giada De Laurnetiis. And they were pretty good. The dough was batter-like, like my first batch. but I smartened up (actually, it was Mr. Rosemary’s suggestion) and this time used my small ice-cream scoop I use for cookies to form the dough balls and drop them into the hot oil. These zeppole were just right, although one of my sisters said that she remembered they were bigger.

I first found this recipe from Giada but then I found a blogger who also used it and described great success, so I followed Spoonful’s as well, but included the confectioner's sugar dusting after frying instead of cinnamon sugar.
There was one more reason I liked St. Joseph Day when I was a child: Since we had St. Joseph nuns as teachers, we had the day off from school!

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and Spoonful
(yield: 4-6 servings)

1 stick butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
Optional: 3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1/2+ teaspoon grated lemon zest
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Olive oil, for frying
In a medium saucepan combine the butter, salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and water over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Take pan off the heat and stir in the flour. Return pan to the heat and stir continuously until mixture forms a ball, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the flour mixture to a medium bowl. Add vanilla extract and / or lemon zest if using. Using an electric hand mixer on low speed, add eggs, 1 at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Beat until smooth. If not frying immediately, cover with plastic wrap and reserve in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, pour enough oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of two inches. (I used my cast iron Dutch oven.) Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (Watch the temperature as you fry and adjust heat accordingly to maintain 375 degrees Fahrenheit).

Using a small ice-cream scooper or 2 small spoons, carefully drop about a tablespoon of the dough into the hot olive oil, frying in batches.  Be careful not to make the zepploe too big or the insides will be doughy. The zeppole will immediately float to the top and puff up. Turn the zeppole once or twice with the side of a slotted spoon, cooking until golden and puffed up, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully as cooking time might also be quite a bit shorter). Drain on paper towels or paper bags. Then transfer a few at a time while still warm to paper bags with about ½ confectioner’s sugar. Replenish the sugar once in a while.  Eat them while they’re warm – and they don’t keep well!


  1. I've always wanted to make these, but haven't had a group big enough to cook for...and I don't think I could eat that many in one sitting! And I never knew about St. Joseph, poor guy.

  2. Your zeppole look very good for me. I like this type of sweets, but I don't cook them very often. I use confectionery sugar with vanilla for dusting.
    So Mr.Rosemary is your sous chef? :)
    Have a beautiful day.

  3. Never had Zeppole - I will have to mark St Joseph's day in future so I can try out these delicious morsels.

    p.s. I think your father must be related to mine - I can recognise the ability to "dirty every *%^($# dish and utensil" in the place :)

  4. There is a zeppole recipe for every town in Italy! It's just fun to try them all. Yours look sweet and inviting and I would be pleased to have 2 or 3. I imagine St. Joseph doesn't eclipsed in Italy!

  5. I just found your blog over on Claudia's Italian Cook, and am now following you. I think it's great that you made these for St. Joseph's Day. I did not forget, I just didn't have time because I was in the garden all day. Thank you for sharing this educational post for others to know about this great day. Hope you can stop by sometime.

  6. your Zeppole look delicious, I would love to try them! I work at a school run by St Joseph nuns, so when it falls during the week we have it off too! It makes it an extra good reason to celebrate it!

  7. I think that any day where delicious food is involved is cause for celebration!!!

  8. Those zeppole look delish! I could easily eat a dozen!

  9. I look forward to this day every year.. I love this picture here these are perfection!. I make a different region version every year but my favorite is the cream puff style. Your recipe ingredients are just perfect for the fritter style. ITs an amazing story just wish I was in Italy to enjoy the feast! Happy St Guiseppi Day!

  10. Wow! I'm in zeppole heaven! These look delicious! I'm your newest follower via Claudia and Roz!

  11. Rosemary-Thank you for reminding us that it's St. Joseph's Day, and to think we have at least 4 Josephs in our family!
    Your Zeppole is so beautiful, and delicious. It really inspires me to make them for a special occasion, and not wait till next year!
    I really enjoyed reading your post, as well.

  12. I am so happy you posted this recipe. Boy, does it bring back memories. I grew up in Navy housing and so we were used to our friend's Moms being from all over the world. My friend's Mom, Rita, was from Italy and I clearly remember her making these for us kids. We never said it as well as she did in her Italian These look exactly like what she made.
    Thank you for taking me back. I had forgotten all about these treats!!

  13. Oh my! WHat warm memories! I love it!!! Thanks for stopping by my blog!! I'm glad you like the Easter Egg Hunt cookies ♥- Katrina


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