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 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.
These custard-filled doughnuts, first made to honour Saint Joseph, are now Italy’s gift to us all, writes Emma Knowles.