Delicious, baked, big cream puffs, these Bignè filled with lemon custard are the typical sweets for Italian Father’s Day.
If it happens you are in Italy, and more specifically in the area of Rome, in March, you will see all the bakeries, cafés, grocery stores and pastry shops, starting to fill their glass cases with a pastry called Bignè di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day Cream Puffs), both in the fried and baked version. They are getting ready to celebrate Festa del Papà, Father’s Day, which in Italy is on this very day, March 19th, and that on our calendar is also San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day).
The holiday is deeply connected to a Catholic tradition. For those of you not familiar, St. Joseph is Jesus’s father and thus made the symbol of all fathers, plus Joseph is also the Patron Saint of friars and pastry makers, so it’s no coincidence that on Father’s Day, in Italy, pastry shops show off their most delectable pastries. Father’s Day is always celebrated on this day even if it falls on a weekday, and I remember, year after year, with my family, eating these pastries: Bignè di San Giuseppe and Zeppole (which are typical Neapolitan, the batter is piped into a ring shape, filled with pastry cream, and topped with amarena cherries). My mother has often made fried bignè, which is more luscious, but we’ve also eaten the store bought ones, equally delicious.
This year I wanted to celebrate with my father, being that I am in Rome (and that doesn’t happen too often lately), baking my own Bignè di San Giuseppe. I love (I know I shouldn’t) deep fried everything, but I dislike frying, and that was the main reason why I opted for the baked version (the health factor coming just second).
So yesterday, I set myself in motion: work in the morning, smooth train ride, and at 4 p.m. I was home. From there I raced against the clock to get everything done and take the pictures before it got dark (here we haven’t changed the clock, yet). I made it in time, but phew!, what a rush 😉 . Hope you take your time to make them, they deserve that, maybe start in the morning, have few breaks, and possibly use a stand mixer. I beat the batter by hand and let me tell you, I had my workout. Dad, this is my gift to you!
Let’s start making bignè
The batter of the baked bignè is the french-style pate à choux (choux pastry): butter, bit of sugar and salt, water, eggs. It can be a little touchy, the care is to let the butter/water/salt/sugar/flour mixture cool down before incorporating the room-temperature eggs one at a time. Each egg has to be fully blended in the batter before adding the next one and that requires a lot of arm and hand effort if you, like me, don’t own a stand mixer and use instead a whisk and a wooden spoon.
The batter is then piped into some kind of a ring shape, overlapped and closed at the top, baked, then filled with crema (custard), and sprinkled with icing sugar. The baking process is the other delicate part: they have to bake at the right temperature and for the right amount of time so as not to deflate once out of the oven. Secondly, the interior of the choux pastry has to be completely dry and to ensure that, once they’re fully cooked, you can poke the bottom with a toothpick and leave them to dry in the oven, turned off and with the door slightly opened. I was so anxious to get everything done that I opened the oven door too soon and so my first batch flattened miserably. For the second batch I was more tired but also more alert and the puffs turned out just beautiful.
While the first batch of pastries was in the oven, I made the custard, using my mother’s recipe. I used 3 eggs, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 3 tablespoons of flour, 3 glasses of milk and the rindof half an organic lemon. I love the fragrant scent and flavor of the citrus in the custard!
Once the bignè were stuffed with the custard and sprinkled with icing sugar, I took the shots then started the clean up. I had an enormous amount of pots, pans, cutlery, utensils, including the cloth sac-à-poche (that I had to use for both piping and filling the pastries and so wash twice). Why did I buy a cloth pastry bag I have no idea!
In the end, I was fatigued by the long day, but happy with the result and more happy at the thought that my father and my family will enjoy them. The puffs: light, delicate, fragrant (I added a grating of lemon zest in the batter); the custard: lush, velvety, citrusy, perfect counterpart to the pastry.
Thank you dad for everything you do for us and for still spoiling your “little girl”, me, who isn’t that little anymore. And thank you for being the more rational, calmer, and more relaxed of the bunch, while mom and I are always the worry warts and anxious ones.
Song of the day: the beautiful “Grand Optimist” by City and Color (which we’re going to see live in a few months!)
- 4 organic free range eggs
- 80 g butter, cubed
- 200 ml water
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 120 g unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 tsp grated lemon zest (optional)
- 3 large organic egg yolks
- 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 3 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
- 3 glasses of milk (about 400 ml)
- rind of 1/2 an organic lemon
- Preheat the convection oven to 190°.
- In a thick-bottomed saucepan, put the cubed butter and pour the water, add the pinch of salt and teaspoon of sugar and bring slowly to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the butter has melted and the water is boiling, remove the pan from the heat and pour inside the sifted flour. Return the saucepan on the stove and stir the ingredients with a whisk first and then continue stirring with a wooden spoon until you get a ball shaped dough. You have to keep stirring the mixture until you see a white film form at the bottom of the saucepan (it can take 5-10 minutes).
- Pour the mixture into a bowl and let it cool. Once lukewarm, add eggs, one at a time, adding the following only when the previous one has been completely absorbed (you can use a wooden spoon, a handheld mixer, or better yet, a stand mixer). You want to obtain a smooth and homogeneous batter.
- Transfer the batter into a sac-à-poche (piping or pastry bag) with star nozzle and squeeze it onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, forming circles of medium size on which you will pass twice overlapping each other and closing at the top of the choux pastry. You will get about 12-15 cream puffs: you will need two baking trays because they need space so that they don't stick to one another while cooking.
- Cook the cream puffs in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. When you see they are puffy and a beautiful golden color, turn off the oven, poke little holes at the base with a toothpick and put them back in the oven ajar for 10 minutes to let them dry inside.
- After this time, remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
- Heat the milk in a saucepan with the lemon rind; beat the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, then add the flour. Pour the heated milk mixture slowly, mixing with a whisk. Put back the mixture on the stove and stir constantly until the custard has thickened.
- Transfer the custard to a bowl and let it cool with a plastic wrap on top to keep it from drying out.
- Put the custard in a sac-à-poche with small nozzle and fill the puffs.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy.
The cream puffs will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for a couple days (but they will soften a bit). You can also store just the puffs, once they're cooled off, for 3-4 days in a tin box, or freeze them and once thawed fill them with the custard.
Ricetta in Italiano:
Disclosure: All links in our post are NOT affiliate links. They are only about products or places we normally purchase and like.