March 17th is the day when everyone and their mother is Irish, even if they aren't. March 19th is the day to fake it again, but this time everyone gets to be Italian. Sweet! If you aren't Italian, or you aren't a Rhode Islander, you may have no idea what I'm talking about. La Festa di San Giuseppe, aka St. Joseph's Day, isn't exactly a commercial holiday. In all honesty, it's not much of a holiday at all, and most people, including Italian Rhode Islanders, don't even know it as anything more than the day you get to stuff yourself with the world's most delicious pastry: the zeppole. (If you want to know what today is really about, feel free to read this little history. Or not.)
I'm one of those people. I'm only a quarter Italian, even though I feel more so after my mom married a full blooded Italian with a family that kicks it old school. They clean their kitchens with mopines, make bragiole like nobody's business, and celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It's kind of worn off on me. I walk around sounding like Giada half the time. My amazing family also imparted me with some fabulous new recipes over the years, thanks to my constant nagging. One of them is for zeppoli (which is the plural of the singular zeppole or zeppola, by the way, no "s" needed!).
Now I know that I can probably find zeppoli in many Italiaan bakeries here in Jersey, but I'm really a snob. If just happen to find yourself in RI today, stop by Antonio's on West Shore Road in Warwick or Solitro's on Cranston Street in Cranston. They make the best! If you are feeling really ambitious, you can go ahead and make them yourself. But don't be fooled! There are many zeppoli recipes out there that call for whipped cream or vanilla pudding fillings. That's just wrong. A real zeppole is filled with a yellow custard similar to an eclair or a ricotta filling, which is also the bomb.
Bigné di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's Day Cakes)
1 c. water
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbls. sugar
1 c. all purpose flour
Zest of one lemon and one orange
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large saucepan, combine the water and butter, and bring to a boil. Add the salt and flour, whisking constantly until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan to form a ball in the center. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating them in completely. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and orange zest. Mix well.
Drop by large tablespoon (or use a large pastry bag to pipe large mounds) onto a baking sheet, placing the puffs three inches apart. Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for thirty minutes or until golden. Remove the puffs from the oven. Open the puffs immediately at the top to allow steam to escape. Cool completely before filling.
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 c. whole milk
4 egg yolks
3 Tbls. unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbls. rum (optional)
In saucepan over moderate heat, combine sugar, flour and salt. Add milk gradually, cooking and stirring until mixture is thick and bubbly. Lower heat, stirring for 2 minutes and remove from heat.In small bowl, add cream mixture to eggs slowly. Return mixture back to pan. Bring to gently boil for 2 more minutes, adding butter, rum, and vanilla. Tranfer to a shallow bowl to cool, placing plastic wrap on the top of the custard to prevent a skin forming. Refrigerate. Once custard has cooled completely, pipe into opened pastry shells until they are so full they might pop, top with a cherry, and dust with powdered sugar. Mangia!