The dessert of Italian Father's Day.

Once a year, that’s it. No, I’m not talking about sex.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe should only be made on St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19, also Father’s Day in Italia. This is when I make mine. It’s tradition.

Traditions fade though. Now you can get this popular pastry all year round in many Italian-American communities and even at pasticcerie (pastry shops) in Napoli where it was invented in 1840 by Don Pasquale Pintauro. His pasticceria in Naples is still open.

But tradition is alive in North Beach. Victoria Pastry (Stockton/Vallejo) only makes Zeppole di San Giuseppe on March 19. If you want to make sure you get some order ahead. I did for years but now I make my own.

Victoria makes a smaller, simpler Tuscan version. My Zeppole di San Giuseppe are the ones you will find in Napoli and at Ferrara’s in NYC’s Little Italy.

BTW, pasticciera, the thick boiled custard cream filling is a versatile concoction that can be used in dozens of other recipes, even gelato!

Makes 12 Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Dough

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons butter cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 4 eggs

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the water, butter, sugar and salt in a large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and stir a few times.
  2. As the water begins to boil and the butter is melted take the pan off the flame.
  3. Add the flour and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a dough.
  4. Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy and begins to form a film on the bottom of the pan about 3 minutes.
  5. Take the pot off the flame and break the eggs one at a time and quickly beat each egg until the egg is fully incorporated into the dough and then add the next egg. Work quickly you don’t want to scramble the eggs.
  6. Return the pot to the flame and stir vigorously until the dough forms a smooth, thick paste 30-45 seconds.

Frying

  1. Cut parchment paper into 12 4-inch squares.
  2. Put the dough in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch star tip (#6) and pipe a 3-inch circle of dough on the parchment paper. Fill in with smaller concentric circles so that you have a solid filled-in circle.
  3. Put about a 1/2 inch of canola or peanut oil in a 8 or 10-inch skillet and over a high or high-medium heat bring the oil to 375 degrees. Check the temperature to ensure it stays at 375.
  4. Fry the zeppole a few at a time with the parchment side facing up.
  5. As the zeppole begins to fry, use tongs to gently peel off the parchment.
  6. Fry the zeppole slowly. The first side should take about a minute to turn a light golden color.
  7. Turn the zeppole over and fry the second side until it is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  8. Turn over to the first side and finish frying until this side gets golden brown, about a minute. You want to make sure that the zeppole is cooked all the way through but don’t let either side get too dark.
  9. Drain the zeppole well on paper towel and let cool before filling with the pasticciera. The zeppole should be light, puffed up and airy.

Baking

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it and pipe out the 3-inch zeppole as described above.
  3. Bake until lightly golden about 15 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until the zeppole are medium golden brown, puffed up and light when picked up.
  5. Transfer to a cooling rack.

If you don’t want to use a pastry bag, use a heaping tablespoon of dough for either the frying or baking method instead of piping the circles.

Pasticciera (Boiled Custard Cream)

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Cooking Directions

  1. Mix the flour and 1/2 cup sugar in a big bowl. Whisk in the eggs until the mixture is smooth and is quite thick.
  2. In a large saucepan mix the milk, the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt. Scald over medium heat stirring frequently so it doesn’t scorch or form a film.
  3. When a ring of small bubbles forms around the edge of the pan  remove it from the heat.
  4. Whisk 1 cup of the hot milk a little at a time into the flour and egg mixture. You’re tempering the mixture so whisk vigorously. You don’t want to scramble the eggs.
  5. Whisk in a second cup of hot milk into the flour and egg mixture and then return the tempered mixture to the pan with the hot milk whisking constantly.
  6. Slowly over medium-low heat and whisking constantly cook the mixture until it thickens, about 4 minutes. Take it off the heat when you see the first boil bubble.
  7. Set up another large bowl with a fine strainer and pass the pasticciera through the strainer using a spatula to push it through the mesh.
  8. Mix in the vanilla well.

To Assemble the Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Additional Ingredient

  • For decoration Amarena cherries (sour cherries in syrup from Campania)
  1. Put the pasticciera in a pastry bag.
  2. Pipe the cream into the zeppole. Use the tip to break the surface of the zeppole so you get some cream inside the zeppole. Finish with a small rosette on the top.
  3. Top the rosette with an amarena cherry and a bit of its syrup.
  4. You can dust the top with confectioner sugar if you like.

The fried zeppole di San Giuseppe should be eaten soon after they are made. The baked zeppole will hold up longer. If you make the zeppole shells in advance you can crisp either the fried or baked shell by putting them in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes before filling them.

If you don’t want to use the pastry bag, cut the zeppole shell in half and spoon in some of the pasticciera.