I first shared this a year ago -- to celebrate St. Joseph Day. I had fully intended to
post a new recipe, a variation on this same theme, but . . . .
* * * * *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
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!