Zeppole di San Giuseppe, for Italian Father's Day. The traditional Zeppole here are flavored with orange and oven-baked till golden brown, then filled with a beautiful vanilla bean pastry cream. The topping is a swirl of pastry cream and a sour cherry for decoration.
Happy Father's Day to my father in Italy, and to all the fathers, especially the ones that are far from their children. I think it is always hard for them but it's in times of celebration that they feel it the most. Last year I was in Rome and made Bignè di San Giuseppe for my father. He was so happy, the whole day he wore a smile from ear to ear. I had lunch with them and we shared Bignè as a dessert. This year I am far away, but I decided to bake Zeppole anyway, the traditional sweets for this day, and dedicate them to him while sharing them with my father in law and my amazing husband.
There is so much I love about the pate à choux (choux pastry): the process of cooking the flour in water, butter, and in this case orange juice, till nice and thick, and when you incorporate the eggs, one at a time, it turns into a smooth cream, ready to be piped in beautiful shapes. Then the attention you have to put in the baking process, and how they puff and become crispy and golden brown on the outside, while void and airy on the inside, perfect housing for the delicious filling. Of course, they require time and care, with Loreto we spent two and half hours yesterday, and I was so lucky to have him on my side, to help me in the stages of the preparation.
In the morning, as our usual Saturday breakfast outing, we went to try a new bakery and café that opened in South Edmonton called La Boule, renowned for its pastries, especially the éclairs. Entering the shop I saw the éclairs all lined up behind the glass display, gorgeous in all the different flavors, and my mind went to the zeppole that I had to make in the afternoon, hoping they would look a fraction of the beauty they possessed. I think we did a pretty good job with our Zeppole, but I might be biased.
Traditionally, Zeppole di San Giuseppe are deep fried, but in the last years, you can find them also oven-baked. Again, like last year with the Bignè, I opted for the baked version. Maybe next year I am going to make deep-fried zeppole, they are so good and decadent, an indulgence I would gladly take. They are a very old sweet, originated in Naples, but popular all around Italy, and in Rome, they contend the shelves of the pastry shops with their counterpart Bignè di San Giuseppe.
Zeppole and Bignè have been in my life forever, sometimes homemade by my mother, but mostly bought in well-known pasticcerie, patisserie, where people line up to buy a tray of these beauties. They start to appear in pastry shops, bakeries, and also homes, soon after Carnevale ends, an explosion of cream puffs and rich cream overflowing, plus here and there the vibrant color of the amarena cherries. In Italy, there is always a dessert for an occasion and socialization always bearing gifts for particular celebrations. The pasticceria present their wares in such a manner that is truly a gift, the pastries placed on a decorative golden tray, wrapped in paper and sealed with a ribbon tied around it.
While baking in the oven, the fresh scent of orange permeates the house, then what hits you is the smell of that fresh vanilla bean nestled in the creaminess of the custard, velvety smooth and rich in a most simple sense as it has very few components. As you bite into them, the sour cherry is the first thing you tackle, a nice bite of sour soothed with the syrupy coating, discarding the pit. The sour cherries are homemade. We made two little jars last summer with Loreto's uncle sour cherries, and they are delicious. But now down, to some serious tasting. You sink into the zeppole, and the tenderness and lightness of the pastry are evident with those thin voided airy pockets. Then the cream comes through once again with little hints of vanilla tantalizing my tongue to bring an infectious smile to me, then to everyone at the table. The combination of the cream and pastry is a perfect marriage of flavor and texture. These Zeppole di San Giuseppe are a wonderful way to end a meal and to show gratitude to the ones in your life!
Buona Festa del Papà!
Recipe adapted from Zeppole all'arancia
- 150 ml water
- 100 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
- the zest of 1 orange
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 160 g flour 00, sifted
- 4 eggs, organic free range
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
- 500 ml whole milk (3.25%)
- 1 vanilla bean
- 6 egg yolks, organic free range
- 140 g granulated sugar
- 45 g corn starch
- sour cherries
- Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
- In a saucepan over low/medium heat add the water, orange juice, and butter.
- When the butter has completely melted, add the orange zest and the sifted flour.
- With the help of a wooden spoon, stir well until the dough gets dense and it is ready when it begins to break away from the walls.
- 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 mixture thus obtained inside a pastry bag with a star tip.
- On the prepared baking sheets, pipe a circle of medium size (4-6 cm) and continue piping overlapping the first one, until you have two circles not closed at the top (possibly).
- Place the zeppole in the preheated oven at 400° F (200° C) for the first 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350° F (180° C) and bake for 20 more minutes. After that, open the oven a little and cook for additional 5 minutes.
- Transfer onto a rack to cool.
- Meanwhile prepare the vanilla bean pastry cream.
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream:
- Heat the milk in a saucepan with the scored vanilla bean but do not let it boil.
- In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until nice and frothy, then add the corn starch and mix.
- Remove the vanilla bean from the milk and scrape the seeds in the egg mixture.
- Pour the heated milk slowly in the egg mixture, mixing with a whisk. Put back the mixture on the stove and whisk constantly until the custard has thickened. Remove from heat and place in a big bowl filled with ice water. Keep whisking until temperature has reduced.
- Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and let it cool with a plastic wrap on top to keep it from drying out.
- Put the cream in a piping bag with a star tip.
- Cut the zeppole in half carefully. Fill the bottom with the cream but stay inside the borders.
- Cover with the top, sprinkle with icing sugar, pipe some cream on top and finish with the sour cherry.
Cook the trays separately unless you have a convection oven. As one tray is in the oven you can prepare the pastry cream, this will lessen the time factor. Once filled, refrigerate uncovered. The zeppole lasts for a couple days.