March 19th, celebrate St. Joseph’s and Italian Father’s Day with a Neapolitan sweet treat: The Zeppole di San Giuseppe

My Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Auguri a tutti i papa` (Best wishes to all of the fathers). Today, March 19th, in Italy we celebrate La Festa del Papa` (Father’s day).

When I was a child, on the afternoon before Father’s Day, my mom and I would go to a nearby field to pick-up the fragrant mammole (violets). The next morning, I would set up a breakfast tray for my dad with the violets nicely gathered in a small glass. A small handcrafted gift and a short letter was usually on the tray as well. This past winter I received, from my brother in Italy, some boxes full of mementos from our mom’s home. In one of the boxes, to my surprise, I found a little red velvet sketch book with a small round cutout window through which you could glimpse a picture of my dad and myself. It was a gift I had made for my dad on Father’s Day, March 19, 1971, I was 8 years old.  Inside the book, dedicated to my dad, there was a prayer, a poem, and a short letter. I guess he loved it and I am so glad that 40 years later I can share it with my children.

If you have been following my blog, by now, you have realized that most of the Italian Holidays are tightly connected to the religious calendar; Father’s Day is no different.  Today, March 19th, the Catholic Church celebrates  San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s day), foster-father of Jesus and therefore, symbol of all fathers.

I have, however, recently learned  that Father’s day was first celebrated on July 5, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia. It was then officially formalized  on June 19, 1910 in Spokane, Washington where Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd, (unaware of the celebration in Fairmont) inspired by the celebrations for Mother’s day, organized the first festival to honor the paternal figure. Mrs. Dodd chose the month of June because that was her father’s birthday.

Once the Holiday arrived in Italy it was decided that it would have been more appropriate to celebrate on March 19th.

In Italy the festivity also coincides with the ancient pagan propitiatory rites of the end of winter, with the burning of the crop’s residues on the field. The rites were accompanied by the preparation of the zeppole, which is the typical sweet treat of this Holiday.

As you can imagine, I make my Zeppole di SanGiuseppe the way they make it in Naples where the first recipe was put on paper, in 1837, by the famous Neapolitan gastronome Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino.

I am pretty sure I have already told you that I tend to give an Italian flair to any holiday. So, when this past Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, I was invited to dinner by some very dear friends, I offered to bring dessert,  I made my zeppole di San Giuseppe and I just sprinkled them with green sugar sprinkles.

The zeppole can be deep fried or baked. I do bake mine.

Ricetta Zeppole di San Giuseppe


For the pastry dough

6 eggs

2-1/3 cup flour

3-1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

2-1/8 cup water

For the pastry cream

2-1/8 cup whole milk

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup flour

2 strip lemon peel

To garnish:

powdered sugar

drained cherries is syrup


Pour the water into a saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt, turn heat to medium and when the water begins to make the first bubbles, but not boiling, pour the flour all at once and stir vigorously for 10 minutes with a wooden spoon until the mixture will detach from the edges of the pan.

Turn off the heat and add the 6 eggs, one at a time.

Stir vigorously, with a wooden spoon. Each egg must be well incorporated throughout the mixture, before you add another egg (this is not easy, you can also use your standing mixer with the hook attachment or, you can use your hands).

Let stand for 20-25 minutes.

Now prepare the Crema Pasticcera (Pastry Cream)

In a pot work the sugar with the egg yolks until mixture is white and fluffy.

Add the sifted flour, stirring to avoid lumps. Slowly add the milk and lastly the two pieces of lemon peel.

Place the pot on the stove and thicken the cream over medium heat without boiling, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a whisk.

Remove the lemon peel and cool. Take a piece of plastic wrap pushed on the surface of the cream to avoid the formation of a crust on the surface.

Preheat the oven to 430 degree.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag or pastry syringe, attached with a 1/2 inch star tip, with the pastry dough and press the mixture onto the sheet giving it a spiral shape.

Bake the zeppole for 10 minutes then turn the temperature down to 400 degree and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove form oven, transfer to a cooling rack.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar once they’ve cooled slightly.

Before you top with the pastry cream make sure the zeppole are completely cool.

Place the pastry cream into a pastry bag fitted with a 12mm star tip.  Into the center of each zeppole, pipe the pastry cream.

Now, as I mentioned to honor St. Patrick’s Day I sprinkled my zeppole with green sugar sprinkles.

Pretty in green!

The Neapolitan zeppole are topped with amarena cherries, you can use any kind of sour cherries, in syrup or, simple maraschino cherries.

They should be eaten the day they’ve been made.  Enjoy!

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