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 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
Adapted from the Nella Cucina Cookbook
Makes about 24 pastries

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

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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Ginny said…
Beautiful! Looks great! My family celebrates La Festa di San Giuseppe but a little differently. The tradition is to make fried dough rolled in sugar, which we call Guispetti. I'm planning on making them when I'm home for Easter (and blogging about them) but we shall see! Happy St. Joseph's Day!
Pixie said…
How wonderful! I'm really enjoying your blog Susan...and you're making me terribly hungry at 7am.
Peter M said…
That's it. I'm going to the Italian bakery and picking up some Zeppoli.

Also, this is the first time I've come across a Mary-Ann Esposito recipe in a blog. She's from nearby (Buffalo, NY) and I think she's under-rated.

Heck, she even got Jacques Pepin to guest on her show!
All these Easter goodies you are making... For us St Giuseppe was San Jose and we also celebrate it with lots of food and treats. I love seeing traditional desserts especially if they are cooked and baked with family. Great job!
These are gorgeous, and I'm sure delicious too. I love Mary Ann Esposito too--glad you mentioned her :)

Also, to Ginny, it seems like we celebrate in a similar way...calling them different names of course ;)
As I sleepily started scanning through the food blogs this morning, I come across this can't have me craving dessert at this hour! :-P Those look fantastic. The presentation looks spectacular and I can just imagine how delicious those are...
Gretchen Noelle said…
These really do look delicious! So, when is Easter dinner? What time should I be over? ;)
Anonymous said…
Gorgeous! And so different from the zeppole we get in New York! When I made them I got a lot of comments about the lack of filling, and I must say that the filled version looks even more scrumptious than the street fair type I've always gotten!

Thanks for the link, btw!
RecipeGirl said…
Oh... MY... GAWD! This sort of pastry treat is my absolute fave. I must leave your blog right now or I may not get to the gym!!
I love recipes that come with a story - these are new to me, Susan, but I can tell you I could have a couple right now. ;)
Anonymous said…
ooh, those look good. now the baked goods i just ordeded into the office for breakfast are going to pale in comparison, great.
I sooo wish you lived closer to me!!! These look delicious!
I want to be adopted by your family. Happy St. Joseph's Day, Happy Easter...have a wonderful time with your family:D
Susan @ SGCC said…
Ginny- Thanks! I'm familiar with the fried zeppole. We make them too. They are also really good.

Pixie- Thank you! I'm so glad you like it here. I hope you come visit often! :)

Peter- Lol! That's the spirit!

I've been a fan of Mary Ann since her Ciao Italia days on PBS. I think she is under-rated too.

Aran- I think that most of the European countries have their versions of these celebrations, but they are all similar. I've really been trying to keep these traditions alive, because I don't want them to die out.

Michelle- Thank you! I'm glad you like them. I'm an old Ciao Italia fan.

Mike- You're too funny! I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures. I must admit, the pastries are pretty delicious. If you want to make a road trip, I'll save you one!

Gretchen- Lol! Easter dinner is at 3:00. I'll save you a place!

Ann- Thank you! The filling is really what makes this. I'll put pastry cream on anything, though.

It was my pleasure! :)

RecipeGirl- Hehehe! I'll meet you there!

Patricia- Thanks! Come on over!

Michelle- Sorry! I'm glad you like mine, though. I'm taking orders for next year. ;)

Judy- You DO live close to me! Hitch a ride with Mike and bring a fork! ;)
Susan @ SGCC said…
Val- Thanks so much! You have a wonderful holiday with your family too!
Deborah said…
Yum!I think I could eat that whole plate myself...
Jen said…
How extraordinary. They look beyond wonderful! Happy Easter!
So sinful! How great they would be with a cup of coffee :)
Cakespy said…
Oh my, I haven't seen pastries like this since moving away from NYC. These look simply fantastic, better than in Little Italy!
test it comm said…
Those look really good. I especially like the sound of the almond pastry cream.
Holy Frickin' Crap Woman....these are by far the most fabulous YET. I am soooooooooo jealous. I want a dozen by Sunday puhleaze!
San Giuseppe this year kicks off what I like to call the Season of the Tight Pants - so close to Easter it's dangerous! They look good!
Susan @ SGCC said…
Deborah- You and me both!

Jen- Thanks you so much! Happy Easter to you too.

Cowgirl- Absolutely! Maybe a nice cappuccino.

Cakespy- Wow! Thanks! That is a great complement!

Kevin- Thank you! You could also just use vanilla, but I really like the almond flavor in the cream. It is really distinctive.

Obsessive- Lol! Thanks! I'm glad you like them. You always make me smile! :) If I had a dozen left, I'd send you some!

Sara- Hehehe! I love it! That is so true. I have noticed that my pants are a bit tight this week. I'll be hopping on that treadmill now. ;)
Anonymous said…
The english bloke and I just had these yesterday. Some with custard, some with canolli cream :)
Yours look wonderful!
Unknown said…
your zeppole are very beautiful, brava
A girl after my own heart!! We are a "Zeppole obsessed" family, making several trips to our favorite Italian bakery for these. Yours look scrumptious!! I never tried making them, I always buy them when they come out in March. I even posted a picture of them in my braciole post.( when you get a chance, check it out) Yours looks like they came right out of a professional Italian bakery!! Mmmm
Susan @ SGCC said…
Maryann- Thanks! I didn't make the ricotta ones, but I really like them too.

Carmen- Grazie! Glad you like them.

Marie- Thank you so much! Trust me, if I had access to the great bakeries you have up there, I'd be buying them by the truckload!

I did see the picture in your braciole post. That was my inspiration! :)
Peabody said…
Those are stunning.
Susan @ SGCC said…
Peabody- Thanks! Glad you like them!
Amy said…
Oh my, almond pastry cream! Seeing as how almond extract is probably one of my favorite things, I would have to stop myself from eating this by the spoonful. ;)
Susan @ SGCC said…
Imma-Thank you! I love the fried ones too, but I've never had them with filling. It sounds really good.

Amy- I am nutty for almond things too. That pastry cream is fabulous. You could use it in anything.

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