March 19th. To most people, it’s just another day.
But if you’re Italian AND your name is Joseph, March 19th is a special day.
It is your namesake day and you celebrate by eating Zeppole di San Giuseppe!!
What Exactly is a Zeppole Di San Giuseppe?
In Italy (more so in the south) these delectable treats are called bignè di San Giuseppe, or Neapolitan Zeppole. I’d say the best way to describe it is if a crueller (donut) had a baby with a churro (Mexican fried baby), this is what you’d get!
It’s traditionally filled with an Italian pastry cream and served with amarena cherries (which are candied wild sour cherries grown in Italy), but you can also find them many different ways! Some are filled with a sweetened ricotta filling (similar to Sicilian cannoli). I’ve even seen them filled with whipped cream and Nutella!
The pastry base is choux pastry that you may recognize as similar to a cream puff (it’s, in essence, the same thing!!). Many times the pastry is fried but you can also find them baked (which I prefer because I feel like it is less likely to get soggy).
These beautiful treat above are from Rustic Bakery. There were a variety of fillings including the traditional (with pastry cream and amarena cherries), one with sweetened ricotta and another non-traditional filled with whipped cream and Nutella – all super delicious!!
Here’s a little history about Zeppole di San Giuseppe:
I was doing a bit of research and found this great article over at Destination Eat Drink…
“The Saint Joseph’s Day celebrations are especially festive in Sicily. Here, Saint Joseph is credited with saving Sicily from starvation in the Middle Ages. To mark the occasion, many Sicilians eat fava beans which are in season in mid-March.
The first mention of something resembling a zeppole comes from an Egyptian traveler in Tunisia around 1460. He wrote of something called mujabbana. The description of a fried dough filled with cheese and sprinkled with sugar is similar to zeppole.
And, it wouldn’t be a surprise that this treat came from northern Africa since the migration of food to Italy, Spain, and Malta from Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt was common.
In the early 1800’s a baker from Naples, Pasquale Pintauro, popularized the custom of eating zeppole on Saint Joseph’s Day. However, Pasquale’s sweet treat probably more closely resembled the sfogliatella, which has a much crispier crust.
On the island of Malta, there are lots of fireworks and processions featuring Jum San Ġużepp.
In Spain, Saint Joseph’s Day is celebrated as Father’s Day. Children cook breakfast for their fathers. This meal is usually vegetarian because the holiday normally falls during Lent.”
The Things You’ll Need to Make these Treats:
The nicest part of this recipe is that it uses pretty simple ingredients that you either already have or are easily accessible.
- all purpose flour
- granulated sugar
- icing sugar
- amarena cherries (this is the only ingredient you may have to source but if you can’t find them or can’t be bothered, simply use fresh or frozen cherries – see instruction for preparation)
My Personal San Giuseppe Story!
My Father-in-law’s name is Joe (or Beppo for short) and he has been in my life since I was 10 years old! He was a special man and he and my mother-in-law were snow birds and would travel to Florida every year. Because March 19th was his namesake day, I used to call every bakery I could find in close proximity to his home in Florida to see if I could get these pastries delivered to him. But, I never had any luck. Then, in 2020, I decided to write a blogpost featuring these beautiful pastries in his honour…I started it but then the draft just stayed in my inbox thinking I would get to it eventually.
In 2022, he died of a massive heart attack in Florida and we were all devastated. So, needless to say, it stayed in my draft file for yet another year.
So this year, in his memory, I am finally finishing this recipe. I hope I would have made him proud.
If you like these Zeppole di San Giuseppe, you also love these Italian treats:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 1/4 cup icing sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 4 tsp all purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups frozen or fresh cherries, pitted
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
To Make the Zeppole:
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together water, milk, butter and salt. Increase the temperature slightly and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
- Remove from heat and stir in 1 1/4 cup flour all at once using a wooden spoon. Once incorporated, place the saucepan back over medium heat and stir constantly for another 2 minutes to release extra moisture and partially cook the flour. The dough will look smooth and a thin film will form on the bottom of the pan.
- Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to beat on medium speed for 1 minute to cool the mixture slightly. Add the 4 eggs 1 at a time, allowing eggs to fully incorporate between each addition. Once all eggs are incorporated, beat another minute until the dough is smooth and forms a thick ribbon when you pull up on the whisk.
- Preheat oven to 400˚F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Transfer dough to a piping bag with a 1/2-inch opening, or use a large zip bag and cut a 1/2-inch opening at the tip.
- Pipe out circular shapes (as small or as large as desired) onto prepared mats. Bake on middle rack for 15-20 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown. Let cool completely on a wire rack then slice in half with a serrated knife to prepare for the filling.
To Make the Pastry Cream:
- For the filling, combine the eggs, flour, sugar and milk in a blender to incorporate well and then pour into a medium saucepan; cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and cover. Then allow to cool for 2 hours. Once the cream has cooled place it in a pastry bag and begin the assembly of the zeppole.
- Pipe the custard over the bottom half of the shells then top with the top part of the zeppole. If you are using the amarena cherries, you can (optional) brush a bit of the cherry liquid on the base of the shell before filling) and even add more cherries in the centre). Place the top half of the pastry over the filling then pipe additional dots of custard (optional) to hold the cherry garnish on top.
- Lightly dust the finished zeppole with powdered sugar before serving.Serve immediately to ensure the light and crisp texture of the pastry.
To Make the Cherry Sauce (if using):
- In a small saucepan, add the cherries and sugar and stir to combine. In a small measuring cup, add 1/3 cup water with cornstarch and stir to combine (making sure there are no lumps – this is called a slurry). Pour into the cheery mixture and stir until thickened. Serve with pastries.