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Making Zeppole

Buon giorno!


Move over, “Dunkin”! We’re through, “Krispy Crème”! It’s over, “Mr. Do-nut!” I’m finished with the cheap imitations! My wandering eye, longing  for the real thing, has found a new love. His name is ZEPPOLE! (zay-po-lay) He is Italian, and he’s gorgeous! He knows what makes my bells ring each time we meet. That golden, tanned,  and kind of crusty exterior – but he’s such a sweet sentimental softy on the inside. Yes, I’m smitten!  Gone! Over the moon and in love!

Trust me, taste Zeppole (zay-po-lay), and you will join me. Your love affair with the local doughnut haunts will be over for good! Guaranteed! For those not familiar with Zeppole, they are the Italian version of what we know as doughnuts, but that’s where the similarity ends. There is something about Zeppole that sets them apart. They are generally not as sweet as the American “Dunkin” variety, and there are all sorts of recipes for them dependent upon what region of Italy you are from or might be visiting. Some are made with yeast, some not, and some with ricotta. You will find recipes with wine or brandy in them or bits of dried fruit.

You will find Zeppole in a rustic free form as we will prepare them today, and you will also find them fancy: piped, fluted, filled with pastry cream and even cherries in some of the finest pastry shops. Once again, the form, appearance, and recipe will vary and change according to region in Italy. A savory form filled with anchovies is common in some areas. The American state of Rhode Island, claiming a large Italian population, heralds some of the most beautiful and artistic of examples in their local bakeries.  Take a look at these. Lovelies

It always fascinates me as to how things get started – where they came from. It is kind of the way I roll in the kitchen as well. I need to know the how and the why and the origin. It always makes the cooking experience richer for me. My fixation with Zeppole is no different in that regard. Just like so many other Italian dishes, the history can often date back centuries. According to Roman Catholic theology, Italians, observing the lessons of their faith, celebrate St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th of every year honoring the step-father of Jesus of Nazareth. It is seen on Western calendars dating back to the 10th century. This feast day which has become synonymous with Zeppole, is of huge importance in Italy – especially in the south and Sicily. It is said that during a famine in Sicily, the poor prayed to St. Joseph. They felt their prayers were answered, in particular, with the appearance of a good crop of fava beans. In return, the people promised to always give thanks to him with food. This is so typical of Italian tradition – when celebrating anything – no matter what – there is always food involved.

The story waxes further that Neapolitans are responsible for creating Zeppole in a convent (of course – and I’m sure those nuns all took a vow of silence), Santa Patrizia, in Naples. It must be true, as according to my father, Attilio, Napoli is the land “ from whence all good food cometh”. The custom we know today of Zeppole as “street food” did, however, begin in Naples in the 1800’s with a pastry chef named Pintauro who first made them in the street outside his little shop. This tradition caught on quickly and still exists today. Neapolitans are positively devoted to this feast day as is seen in their excitement all over the city during this time.

Today, in Italy, there are festivals and parades held in honor of the day. In addition, there are “St. Joseph Tables” – tables heavy  and crowded with foods of all kinds – often without meat because of Lent – the presence of fava beans for luck and, happily, many forms of dolci, including Zeppole, also known as St. Joseph’s cakes. Whether or not you celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, making Zeppole one of your new favorites will not disappoint. Any day is a good one for Zeppole!

Now, you are in for a treat!  Just like the street vendors who whip them up before your eyes as you stroll by, this is one Napoletana chick who promises that Making Zeppole today will be easy, fun, and quick. You’ll love this! Those with “baking with yeast phobias” will cheer as I do not use it in my recipe. I use ricotta and very few ingredients. My Zeppole are simple with just a touch of sweetness in the soft  “inside” and a crispy golden “outside”. They are dotted with currants for another texture and level of flavor.

Hurry! Put on your red dress – as is the custom on this day! Andiamo!


Makes: 30-40

Prep: 10 min.

Cook: fry about 15 min.


1 1/2 qts. oil

1 1/2 c. flour

1/8 tsp. salt

3 tsp. baking powder

1/4 c. sugar

3 Large Eggs – previously beaten

1 1/2 c. Ricotta Cheese

2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 c. currants

Cinnamon Sugar: 3 tsp cinnamon to 1 c. sugar – mix together set aside.


First put oil in large pot  on stove and begin to heat. Oil must reach approx. 375 degrees – good and hot so Zeppole will fry quickly and won’t be greasy.

Meanwhile – In a large saucepan, mix the following: flour, salt, baking powder, sugar.


Add beaten eggs.


Add Ricotta cheese and vanilla.


Stir all together in pan.


Add the currants.


Now, stir together on a low heat until thoroughly mixed and remove from heat.


When oil is hot enough, drop by the tablespoonful into the hot oil – about golf ball size. Use 2 tablespoons for this. I like to spray them with Pam first. The dough falls off easier into the oil that way.


Watch the following video on the frying process.

Frying Zeppole

Frying a few at a time, pop them over if they don’t turn by themselves. They cook VERY quickly – just a couple of minutes. As they turn golden on both sides, remove them with a spider or slotted spoon.


Place them on paper towels.



Dust with cinnamon sugar quickly after removing from oil.

You can also drizzle your Zeppole with honey instead of the cinnamon sugar. Either is traditional. Or use powdered sugar, if you like. They are best when just cooked and still warm , but on the outside chance you have them leftover the next day, you’ll be just as excited to pop one into your mouth for a déjà vu moment and find they are still amazing. They are delicious for breakfast with coffee or espresso – with maybe a little sauce puddle of pureed strawberries on the side.. They also make a dreamy dessert served with a light, sweet Moscato or Vin Santo. My daughter likes them with a scoop of gelato!  Any way you eat Zeppole, it will be heavenly!



Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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