Today is Father’s Day and is also St. Joseph’s Day, the patron of carpenters and fryers, this is the reason why in some central and southern regions of Italy, it’s traditional to eat the famous Saint Joseph’s doughnuts. This dessert has ancient origins, it dates back to ancient Rome, when on March 17th they celebrated the “Liberalia” which were the celebrations in honour of wine and wheat divinity. They were used to drank a lot of wine and ate wheat pancakes fried in boiling lard, in honor of Sileno, who was Bacco’s break buddy and also his tutor. St. Joseph’s zeppole (doughnuts) descend from those pancakes. The first written St. Joseph’s zeppola was reported in 1837 on a cookbook by the famous Neapolitan gastronome Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino. It would rather appear that the current version of St. Joseph’s zeppole is the work of the Neapolitan host Pasquale Pintauro, the sfogliatella inventor, who revisited the ancient Roman pancakes enriching their mixture with eggs, lard and several aromas, proceeding, then, to a double frying, the first in boiling oil and the second in boiling lard. Since then, on the occasion of Father’s Day, on Neapolitan people tables cannot be missing St. Joseph’s zeppole, which is a fried or a baked dessert enriched with custard and sour cherry jam. Personally, I prefer the baked ones, which are less caloric, but if you really want to hurt yourself the fried ones are even better:
For about 30 zeppole
Water 500 ml (17 fl oz)
Flour 300 g (2/3 pound)
Butter 150 g (1/3 pound)
a pinch of salt
Strega liqueur 1 tablespoon (or Limncello or Grappa)
For the custard
Milk 1 lt (4 and 1/4 cups)
Egg yolks 4
Sugar 500 g (18 oz)
Flour 140 g (5 oz)
Lemon peel 1
Icing sugar 100 g (1 cup)
Sour cherries in syrup or candied cherries
Prepare the paste for the zeppole:
Bring water with a pinch of salt and the butter to the boil (picture 1), the butter should be completely melted before the water reaches the boil. As soon as it comes to the boil,lower the heat and add all at once the flour stirring vigorously, you will get a thick and sticky mixture, keep stirring until it sizzle and comes off from the sides of the stewpan (picture 2). Lay out the mixture on a plate or a marble table and leave it to cool (picture 3), then mix the eggs one at a time (picture 4-5) and in the end add the liqueur (picture 6). Cover a baking tray with baking paper, pour the mixture into a pastry bag with star shaped nozzle, and make, at a distance, many disks of paste with a diameter of 6 cm (2.5 inches), with a whirl motion, superimposing a ring of paste only on the outside as to form a small bowl (picture 7). Bake in preheat oven at 190° C (375° F) for 20 min. To be sure of the perfect cooking, open a zeppola, only if the inside is empty and dry (picture 9) the cooking is completed (picture 8). Leave them to cool before filling, you should let them stand overnight.
Prepare the custard: mix the sugar with the flour, whisk the egg yolk and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, add spoonfuls of sugar and flour mixture, if it becomes too stiff, add a dash of warm milk before continuing.
When you have worked in all the sugar and flour mixture, add the remaining milk and pour everything into a cooker, add the lemon peel and bring it to the boil over low heat constantly stirring with a wooden spoon, make it simmer for a few minutes then turn off the heat and remove the lemon peel otherwise the cream will have a bitter taste. Let it cool down stirring from time to time to avoid the forming of a crust on the surface.
Take the zeppole (doughnuts), and with a knife, make a snick in the side (picture 9), then fill by putting in each two teaspoons of custard (picture 10).
When you have filled all the zeppole, prepare the glaze: Put the icing sugar in a bowl and add 2 tablespoons of water. Stir and check if you need to add more water, the right texture is almost creamy and non-liquid. Using a pastry brush, spread the glaze over the zeppole surface, making a ring (picture 11), put a bit of cream in a pastry bag, and make cream tufts in the middle (picture 12), finally put a sour cherry on every cream tuft.