Zeppole di San Guiseppe

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These little pastry pillows which originated in Naples are a true mouthful of delight were first made to celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph. Whether they are filled with a ricotta cream, or custard, or left unfilled and tossed in sugar or drizzled with honey they are truly mouth watering and addictive. The key to success in making zeppole id San Guiseppe is to keep the cooking oil at the correct temperature (180C), so a thermometer will stand you in good stead. Cook them in small batches to help ensure that the oil maintains that steady temperature.

Once they are cooked, drain them well on absorbent paper, then cool them to room temperature before filling, otherwise you will find the filling slipping and sliding all over the place. Be generous with the filling too, as these beauties are all about getting the right balance of creamy goodness and fluffy yielding pastry. This recipe uses a filling of lemon and vanilla custard and will make about 14. They do take a little work and some trial and error, but once you have perfected them, you will make them time and again.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

60g butter, coarsely chopped

40g caster sugar

300g plain flour

6 eggs

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Pure icing sugar, sieved, for dusting

Lemon and vanilla custard

250ml milk

250ml thickened cream

Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped

6 egg yolks

140g caster sugar

50g plain flour

For lemon and vanilla custard, bring milk, cream, lemon rind and vanilla bean and seeds to just below the boil in a saucepan over medium heat, remove from heat, then set aside to infuse for about 20 minutes. Whisk yolks and sugar in a bowl until pale, add flour and whisk to combine. Strain milk mixture through a fine sieve, return to heat and bring to just below the boil, then whisking continuously, pour one-quarter milk mixture over yolk mixture and whisk to combine. Add remaining milk mixture, whisk to combine and transfer to a clean saucepan. Whisk continuously over medium heat until mixture comes to the boil, then cook, whisking continuously, until very thick. Remove from the heat, transfer to a large bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to cool to room temperature.
 
Bring butter and sugar, a pinch of sea salt and 250ml water to the simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add flour, stir to combine, then cook, stirring continuously, until mixture forms a smooth ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan (2-3 minutes). Transfer to an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat on a low speed, adding eggs one at a time and beating well between each addition. Transfer to a large piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm star nozzle and set aside to rest for 20 minutes.
 
Heat oil in a deep fryer or deep saucepan to 180C. Pipe dough into 5cm-diameter rings on small squares of baking paper. Carefully add rings to the oil in batches, paper-side up and deep-fry until the rings loosen from the paper (1-2 minutes: be careful, hot oil will spit). Carefully remove the paper from the oil with tongs and discard, turn rings and cook until golden and puffed (1-2 minutes). Drain on absorbent paper and cool to room temperature, then top each with a little of the lemon and vanilla custard and dust with icing sugar to serve.
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