Yesterday was San Giuseppe, father’s day in Italy, and in Puglia, along with most of Southern Italy, it is time to eat Zeppole. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, zeppole are rings of choux pastry, deep fried, or baked before being piped with crema pasticcera and topped with cherries in syrup or cherry preserve. Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, my preference is definitely for the fried variety which, made properly, are light as a feather and melt in your mouth.
In most of Puglia the zeppola is topped with cherries, in the Salento, where I now live, there is a variant where the crema pasticcera has a circle of chocolate cream piped on the top. Not at all the same – you need the sharpness of the cherry to cut through the sweetness of the custard in my opinion.
It has to be said that, much as I love zeppole, you can have too much of a good thing. Yesterday, at breakfast, Caffe Parisi, one of my favourite bars in Nardò, insisted I had a zeppola with my breakfast coffee. It looked, and was, delicious and I needed little persuasion. Leaving the Caffe I came across a sort of ‘pop up zeppole shop’ organised by local volunteers, who were doing a roaring trade (see pic above).
I managed to get through the rest of the day zeppole free until dinner at Relais il Mignano, where their special San Giuseppe menu ended with a baked zeppola, which worked well as a dessert, with an elegantly fanned strawberry on top rather than the usual cherry.
Ths morning my son, Jamie, went out to get breakfast as a Sunday treat and reappeared shortly afterwards saying triumphantly, ‘I managed to get zeppole!’ . My heart sank rather, particularly as this was the chocolate variety and I do feel rather zeppolad out, though I know I will greet them with joyous greed again, and may even make some in the meantime. Not for a while though….
Everyone swears that their way is the best way to make zeppole, but this recipe has worked for me..
For the zeppole mixture:
150 g flour
Pinch of salt
40 g butter
3 medium eggs (beaten)
125 ml water
Oil for frying ( preferably a light extravirgin olive oil)
For the crème patissiere (crema pasticcera)
250 ml milk
60 g sugar
2 egg yokes
Half a vanilla pod
Icing sugar, cherries in syrup or cherry preserve for topping
First make the zeppole mixture (essentially a choux pastry):
Put the butter and water in a pan, add a small pinch of salt and bring the mixture almost to the boil, before adding the flour and stirring vigorously until you have a smooth mixture which starts to come away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and gradually add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, stirring gently until after each addition until completely mixed.
To prepare the crema pasticcera put the milk and vanilla pod into a pan and bring the milk just to the boil, without letting a skin form. Remove from the heat and let the vanilla infuse for a few minutes before removing the pod. In the meantime mix the sugar and the flour and, in a separate bowl, the egg yolks. Add a little hot milk to the egg yolks and then gradually add the flour and sugar mixture, beating all the while. When the mixture is smooth start adding the rest of the milk, stirring as you go.
Return the mixture to the pan, over a moderate heat and bring to the boil, keeping it on the heat and stirring until the mixture thickens sufficiently. Think very thick custard – it will thicken further as it cools but you need to be able to pipe it on top of the zeppole.
Now you can start frying the zeppole; Cut baking parchment, or lightly oiled tinfoil into around 15 squares, about 9-10 cms across. In the centre of each square pipe a circle of the zeppole mixture with a small hole in the middle (smaller than a doughnut). The paper or foil will come away during the frying process.
Fry these two to four at at a time, depending on the size of your pan in hot, but not smoking, oil (about 170 degrees is good), deep enough to cover the zeppole, turning them every so often. Once the zeppole puff up you may need to raise the temperature a bit to turn them golden brown. As each zeppola is cooked, place on a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain.
When both the custard and zeppole have cooled down, pipe a circle of the cream on each zeppola, dust with icing sugar and add a couple of well drained preserved cherries, or (I think better still) good cherry preserve on top. Enjoy!!!