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!)
Ricetta in Italiano:
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