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Baking With Mom, Part 3: Zeppole di San Giuseppe

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 [1] and here [2] and here [3].

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 [4]by Mary Ann Esposito [5]. 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!
If you enjoyed this recipe, you might also like:
Cream Puffs [6]from Redacted Recipes [7]
Zeppole con Alici o Semplice [8]from Bleeding Espresso [9]
Palline di Ricotta Fritte [10]from Ms. Adventures in Italy [11]