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Zeppole di San Giuseppe honors St. Joseph on his feast day

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March 19 is the feast day of St. Joseph, the just and upright man who married Mary, even though she was pregnant with Jesus. Because of this, St. Joseph is known as the stepfather or the foster father of Jesus.

St. Joseph is honored on his feast day for his faithfulness to Mary and his devotion to Jesus. Throughout the centuries, St. Joseph has also come to be known as the patron saint of workers because of his skill at carpentry. In addition, St. Joseph is also revered as the protector of the family, according to the Catholic Culture website. And during the Middle Ages, the ending of a Sicilian drought was believed to be due to St. Joseph's miraculous powers.

Southern Italians, especially Sicilians, hold a special place in their heart for St. Joseph, and celebrate St. Joseph’s Day much like the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Food plays a prominent role in St. Joseph’s Day celebrations. Italians observe the day by breaking Lenten fasts and sharing large family meals, including elaborate desserts. A special altar is erected to a statue of the saint. In Italy, as well as in the United States, a St. Joseph’s Table is created by placing food around the statue.

One special food on the St. Joseph’s Table is Zeppole di San Giuseppe, also known as St. Joseph’s Day cream puffs or St. Joseph’s Day donuts. Most people are familiar with the fried dough called zeppole because they are popular at carnivals and Italian feasts. These Zeppole di San Giuseppe are a richer version than zeppole typically found at carnivals, and they are filled with sweet pastry cream or ricotta cheese. They are also baked and not fried.

Here’s a Zeppole di San Giuseppe recipe that comes from the Mangia Bene Pasta website. This recipe includes the cream filling, but the zeppole are also delicious with just a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar or cinnamon.

Ingredients for the pastry:

1 cup water
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs

Ingredients for the filling:

1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Maraschino cherries

Directions to make the pastry:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2, In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, sugar, and salt. Bring to a
boil. Remove from heat.

3, With a wooden spoon, beat in flour all at once. Return to low heat. Continue beating until mixture forms a ball and leaves side of pan. Remove from heat.

4. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating hard after each addition until smooth. Continue beating until dough is satiny and breaks in strands. Allow the mixture to cool.

5. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag with a large star tip. For each pastry,
pipe a 2-1/2 -inch spiral with a raised outer wall on the baking sheet.

6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool before
filling.

To make the filling:

1. Combine sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan.

2. In a bowl, whisk together milk and egg yolks Whisk milk mixture into sugar mixture.

3. Place the saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 minute; remove from heat.

4. Stir in rum, orange zest, and vanilla.

5. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface.

6. Allow to cool for 30 minutes and then refrigerate until cold. Fold in the whipped cream.

To assemble the zeppole:

1. Cut the pastries in half horizontally.

2. Transfer the filling mixture to a pastry bag with a star tip.

3. Pipe some of the filling onto the cut side of the bottom half of each pastry. Place the top half of the pastry on the filling.

4. Pipe a small amount of the filling into the hole in the center of each pastry. Place a maraschino cherry in the middle. Dust the pastries with confectioners' sugar.

St. Joseph is also called the patron saint of pastry chefs. One bite into these delicious Zeppole di San Giuseppe and it's easy to see why.

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