Zeppole di San Giuseppe. St. Joseph, Jesus’ father, is Sicily’s most important saint. And, the Festival of St. Joseph is celebrated on March 19th with the same passion and excitement as Thanksgiving is celebrated here in the States. In the middle ages, there was a pretty serious drought and famine and the peasants prayed to God for rain and asked St. Joseph to go to God to support their cause. They promised a special feast to honor St. Joseph if he made it rain. And, rain it did. And the holiday was born.
Families, individuals and communities that have asked for and received favor from St. Joseph create Tavola di San Giuseppe or St. Joseph’s Table to offer thanks on this special day. The table traditionally contains beautiful linens and candles and food that would have been grown by the peasants. If you lived in a coastal town, fish would also be on the table. No meat though, since this feast is celebrated during the Lenten season. But, the highlights of the meal are the sweets.
And, Zeppole di San Giuseppe is one of those special pastries; a fritter topped with orange scented pastry cream that’s finished with a sour cherry. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to find Amarena Cherries – well – I’m just jealous. Amarena cherries are grown in Bologna and Modena regions of Italy and then they’re packed in an amazing syrup. Nothing like them.
The basis for this fried pastry is pate a choux or cream puff paste; the stuff that eclairs and cream puffs are made of. You can see that orange zest is added to the pate a choux. The dough is piped with a star tip onto greased 3″x 3″ squares of foil (I still love the non-stick kind). The foil allows you to easily pick up the piped pate a choux and carefully place it into hot oil (375F). The foil drops right away in a few seconds and you can lift the foil out of the hot oil with a pair of tongs.
Here you can see, with that really, really dark fritter in the upper left corner, that I let the oil get too hot for that first zeppole. But, I recovered with the rest. That’s the beautiful golden brown color that you’re going for. You’ll turn these once while they’re frying to get even color on both sides.
The orange-scented pastry cream comes together pretty quickly, but you’ll want to make this first so that you can get it in the refrigerator to get cold. Make sure you cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap and press it into the surface. This will prevent a skin from forming.
My favorite tool ever. Can’t live without a microplane zester:
Once the pastry cream is cold and the fritters are cool, pipe the pastry cream onto the fritter, top with an Amarena cherry and dust with powdered sugar. Bellisimo!!!
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