Zeppole di San Giuseppe

These custard-filled doughnuts, first made to honour Saint Joseph, are now Italy's gift to us all.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Chris Chen
1H 10M

Be they ring-shaped and glazed, pillows filled with jam or custard, or rustic fritters tossed in spiced sugar, at GT we have something of a soft spot for doughnuts of all shapes, sizes and cultures. There are several versions to be found in Italy. There are the filled bomboloni most associated with Tuscany, sfingi from Sicily, and our office favourite, the zeppole di San Giuseppe which originated in Naples.

These nests of deep-fried choux pastry dusted with sugar were first made to celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, which falls on 19 March. The day coincides with Father’s Day in Italy, and just as the style of celebration varies from region to region, so too does the preparation of these mouth-watering beauties.

Some zeppole remain unfilled and are simply tossed in sugar or drizzled with honey, while others are filled with a ricotta mixture similar to what you’d find in cannoli. Others still are filled with crema pasticcera, and we’ve opted for a version of those here, in this case scented with vanilla bean and lemon rind.

The key to success with zeppole di San Giuseppe is to keep the cooking oil at the correct temperature; a thermometer will stand you in good stead. It’s a bit of a Goldilocks situation: if the oil is too cool, the doughnuts will be insipid and soggy; too-hot oil will result in an overcooked exterior and a doughy interior; 180C is just right. And cook the doughnuts in small batches to help ensure the oil maintains a steady temperature.

Once they’re cooked, drain the doughnuts well on absorbent paper, and cool them to room temperature before filling – otherwise you’ll find the filling slipping and sliding all over the place. Be generous with the filling, too – it’s all about getting a mouthful that has the right balance of creamy goodness and yielding fluffy pastry. Viva le zeppole.

Words by Emma Knowles, recipe by Alice Storey.


Lemon and vanilla custard



1.For lemon and vanilla custard, bring milk, cream, lemon rind, and vanilla bean and seeds to just below the boil in a saucepan over medium heat, remove from heat, then set aside to infuse (20 minutes). Whisk yolks and sugar in a bowl until pale, add flour and whisk to combine. Strain milk mixture through a fine sieve, return to heat and bring to just below the boil, then, whisking continuously, pour one-quarter of milk mixture over yolk mixture and whisk to combine. Add remaining milk mixture, whisk to combine and transfer to a clean saucepan. Whisk continuously over medium heat until mixture comes to the boil, then cook, whisking continuously, until very thick (3-4 minutes). Remove from heat, transfer to a large bowl, cover closely with plastic wrap and set aside to cool to room temperature.
2.Bring butter, sugar, a pinch of sea salt and 250ml water to the simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stir to combine, then cook, stirring continuously, until mixture forms a smooth ball and pulls away from sides of pan (2-3 minutes). Transfer to an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat on a low speed, adding eggs one at a time and beating well between each addition. Transfer to a large piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm star nozzle and set aside to rest (20 minutes).
3.Heat oil in a deep-fryer or deep saucepan to 180C. Pipe dough into 5cm-diameter rings on small squares of baking paper. Carefully add rings to oil in batches, paper-side up and deep-fry until the rings loosen from paper (1-2 minutes; be careful, hot oil will spit). Carefully remove paper from oil with tongs (discard), turn rings and cook until golden and puffed (1-2 minutes). Drain on absorbent paper and cool to room temperature, then top each zeppola with a little lemon and vanilla custard, dust with icing sugar and serve.

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