Whew! Here I am again with another Easter baking post. This is the third one this week – and it’s only Wednesday. With all of this baking, writing and photographing, I am starting to droop! I guess I’m a lot more like the turtle than the hare. I’m a slow and steady kind of gal. Trying to do it all – and do it well – while still attending to my work and family obligations is tough. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how some of my fellow bloggers do it!
Today we’re having Zeppoli di San Giuseppe, or St. Joseph’s Cream Puffs. This is technically not an Easter treat, but since today is La Festa di San Giuseppe, or St. Joseph’s Day, I really wanted to share it with you.
La Festa di San Giuseppe, or St. Joseph’s Day, is commonly celebrated in Italian communities throughout the world. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is a feast day to honor St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus and husband of Mary. For this, he is recognized as the patron saint of fathers. St. Joseph was also a carpenter by trade and thus, is also regarded as the patron saint of carpenters and all workers.
If you are interested in learning more about St. Joseph and the history behind La Festa di San Giuseppe, there are numerous others who have already written much about him more eloquently than I can, including here and here and here.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe are wonderful pastries made with a pate choux, which is an airy, eggy cream puff pastry. The pate choux is piped into rings and then either fried or baked, and filled with a rich, thick cooked pastry cream. The zeppole are then adorned with either amareno or maraschino cherries. In Sicily, they are also called sfingi, and are often filled with a ricotta cream, similar to cannoli instead of a cooked custard. These delectable pastries are traditionally made in celebration of St. Joseph’s day and are rarely available in pastry shops any other time of year.
When I was growing up, St. Patrick’s Day usually just sailed right by as we were waiting for St. Joseph’s Day to arrive. I mean, what self-respecting Italian kid would choose soda bread over a crispy, light as a feather pastry filled with a luscious, rich, almond-scented pastry cream? Not me, that’s for sure! So when my mother and I decided to do some Easter baking, I begged her to make these zeppole as well.
We decided to use the recipe we found in the Nella Cucina Cookbook by Mary Ann Esposito. You can use any cream puff or profiterole recipe you like, but I will tell you that these pastry puffs turned out perfectly. They were very light and crispy on the outside, and moist on the inside. We did have to play around a bit with this pastry cream, however. It tasted absolutely divine, but it didn’t really set up enough to pipe into the puffs. We made a second batch in case we had made a mistake with the first one, but it came out the same. Finally, we cooked the cream some more and kept adding tablespoons of flour, one at a time, until we got the consistency we wanted. You may not have this issue, but if you do, either add some flour or try another pastry cream recipe. We also added an extra egg yolk and about 1/4 cup more sugar to the pastry cream.
The next time I make this dish, I will probably use a different pastry cream recipe. There are so many great ones available. Who needs to deal with runny cream! We actually had to make these zeppole in two installments. We made the pastry cream that night, and left it to chill and set up. Then, the next day we baked and filled the puffs.
We were sooooo thrilled with our finished product! My pastry puffs turned out a little smaller than Mom’s, but they still looked great. Our zeppole looked just as pretty as any I’ve ever seen in a bakery – and they tasted better! Never in my life did I ever think that I would be making pastries from scratch! But, with a little help from my Mom, I did it!
Zeppole di San Giuseppe
Makes about 24 pastries
For the Pastry Puffs:
- 2¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups water
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
- 3½ tablespoons lard
- 6 large eggs
For the Almond Pastry Cream:
- 1/3 cup or cornstarch
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
- Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Maraschino cherries, drained and halved for decorating
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
- Grease and flour a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper..
- Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together and set aside.
- In a heavy saucepan, heat the water, add the butter and lard, and when melted, remove pan from the stove and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat with a wooden spoon, then return the pan to medium-high heat, beating the mixture until it comes away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the eggs one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon or hand mixer to blend each in well before adding the next egg.
- Fill a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch nozzle with some of the cream puff mixture. Squeeze out 3-inch puffs about ½ inch apart on cookie sheet. Bake the cream puffs about 20 minutes or until golden brown. When done, carefully slit the side of each cream puff with a knife to allow steam to escape and prevent the puffs from becoming soggy inside. Transfer the cream puffs to cooling racks.
- In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and sugar for the filling. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and butter over medium-high heat until the butter melts. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook over medium heat until it starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and slowly add the eggs, beating well. Return the mixture to the heat for just a few seconds to cook the mixture, being careful not to scramble the eggs. Pour the filling into a bowl, add the almond extract, and blend. Cover with buttered waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use.
- To serve, use a small knife to cut off the top third of each cream puff. Add about 1/4 cups filling (more if the puffs are larger), replace the tops, and put puffs on a decorative platter. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and pipe a dollop of cream on top. Top with a cherry half and serve immediately.
The pastry shells can be made ahead and frozen, and the filling can be made a day before serving. The lard is what makes the recipe authentic, but you may use all butter.
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