RECIPE: Zeppole di San Giuseppe, A Sweet Legacy

While many cultures celebrate Father’s Day with traditional gifts like ties and grilling, Italy takes a unique approach. Every March 19th, coinciding with the day of Saint Joseph, the nation honours fathers with a delectable culinary tradition – Zeppole di San Giuseppe. These golden-hued treats transcend their role as mere desserts, boasting a fascinating history deeply rooted in ancient traditions and religious significance.

The Unexpected Origins of Zeppole di San Giuseppe

The origins of zeppole di San Giuseppe can be traced back to ancient Rome, where fried pastries were offered to deities during the Liberalia festival in mid-March. Despite the end of pagan practices by Emperor Theodosius II in the 5th century, the tradition of fritters persisted. The Catholic Church cleverly adopted the custom, associating it with Saint Joseph’s feast day just two days after Liberalia’s abolition, preserving the tradition with new religious significance.

Evolution and Regional Variations

Over time, the recipe for zeppole di San Giuseppe evolved, taking on regional variations across Italy. In Naples, they are traditionally filled with a smooth and sweet pastry cream and crowned with a cherry, a type of sour cherry preserved in syrup. In other regions, like Salento, zeppole can be fried or baked, catering to different preferences. Sicilian versions sometimes incorporate rice flour in the dough and are often finished with a touch of orange honey. In Calabria, a unique twist involves filling the zeppole with a rich mixture of ricotta cheese, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest.

Making zeppole di San Giuseppe at home is quite straightforward. Here’s a recipe for 6 people:


RECIPE: Zeppole di San Giuseppe, A Sweet Legacy



For Choux Pastry:

  • 250 ml water
  • 55 g butter
  • 150 g all-purpose flour (00 flour)
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs + 1 egg yolk

For Pastry Cream:

  • 200 ml milk
  • 70 g sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 22.5 g cornstarch
  • ½ vanilla bean

For Frying and Decoration:

  • Peanut oil (enough for frying)
  • 6 maraschino cherries
  • Powdered sugar (to taste)


  1. Prepare the pastry cream: Heat the milk with the vanilla bean. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with sugar, add the cornstarch, and mix. Temper the mixture with some hot milk before adding it back to the milk in the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Let cool.
  2. Prepare the choux pastry: In a saucepan, bring water, butter, and salt to a boil. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until you have a smooth dough that comes away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and incorporate the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Fry the zeppole: Heat the oil to 165°C (330°F). Using a piping bag with a star tip, pipe donut shapes of dough onto parchment paper. Carefully transfer them to the hot oil and fry for a few minutes, flipping them halfway through. Drain on paper towels.
  4. Assemble and decorate: Fill the zeppole with pastry cream, top each with a maraschino cherry, and dust with powdered sugar.

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Original recipe can be found here.


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