Little Italian Doughnuts (Zeppole)

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My first and only trip to Italy (so far!) took me to Sicily in the springtime, where I marveled over the piles and piles of fresh artichokes I saw in street markets everywhere, and first learned of zeppole, eggy-batter little doughnut puffs served in honor of Sicily’s patron saint Joseph, during St. Joseph’s Day celebrations. Kamal Grant, doughnut-baker extraordinaire and owner of Atlanta’s Sublime Doughnuts, features his diminuitive version of the little dough darlings in his new book Homemade Doughnuts, just out this Spring from Quarry Books.ZepoleBestlowres Kamal suggests serving the tender puffs with a traditional Italian filling of lemon-zested sweetened ricotta (nice!). (NOTE: This needs to be made the day before you want the doughnuts.) But we think they are also very good with either our lemon curd, or, killer chocolate mousse filling (below).

Makes 24 to 30

Zeppole Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted buter
  • 4 Tbsp sugar, divided
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 7 large egs
  • 1 qt peanut (or rice bran) oil
  • ricotta or chocolate filling (below)
  • powdered sugar, to garnish

Lemon-Zested Sweetened Ricotta Filling Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups fresh ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp finely-grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice

Killer Chocolate Filling Ingredients

  • 3 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate
  • 2 ounce piece bittersweet Scharffen Berger chocolate
  • 3/4 cup 2% milk, divided into 1/2 cup portion and 1/4 cup portion
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1/4 cup cane sugar
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)

Instructions

  1. Make the fillings: NOTE: The ricotta filling needs to be started one day ahead of when you want to serve the doughnuts. To make the ricotta filling: Line a sieve with a layer of cheesecloth and set over a bowl. Spoon ricotta into the cheesecloth. Drape a kitchen towel over the sieve and set in the refrigerator overnight to drain. Next day, transfer the drained ricotta to the bowl of a stand mixer. On medium speed, beat ricotta and confectioners’ sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, zest and lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the doughnuts are ready.
  2. To make the lemon curd filling, see lemon curd recipe.
  3. To make killer chocolate mousse filling: chop the chocolates. Set aside. In a small pot over medium heat, whisk 1/2 a cup of the milk and all of the cream together and heat to boiling. Remove from heat. Make a slurry by combining the remaining milk with the cornstarch.  Whisk the egg with the sugar; whisk in cornstarch slurry. Continue to whisk while dribbling the hot milk into the egg mixture. Return all to the pot and heat to boiling, still whisking, until the mixture thickens. Turn off the heat. Add the chopped chocolate and butter and whisk until combined, adding the salt and vanilla at the end. Chill.
  4. Make the doughnuts: In a large saucepot over medium heat, combine the water, butter, 2 Tbsp of the sugar and the salt. Cook until the butter and sugar and melted (about 2 minutes.) Heat to boiling and cook for 30 more seconds; remove from heat. Stir in flour and baking powder, then place over low heat. Using a wooden spoon, beat until the dough is stiff, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Cool for four minutes.
  5. Transfer batter to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and let the dough sit for two more minutes. Turn the mixer on low; add eggs, one at a time, beating until the batter is thick and ribbonlike with the temperature of lukewarm water. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow batter to cool to room temperature (about 10 minutes.)
  6. While dough is cooling, pour oil into an electric fryer and heat to 360 degrees. Using a mini ice-cream scoop, cookie-dough scoop or two spoons, scoop individual tablespoons of dough and drop into the hot fat. Fry the zeppole until golden brown (about 3 1/2 minutes) turning them over about halfway through cooking time. Transfer to a wire rack over paper toweling to drain. When cool enough to touch, fill with your choice of filling, using a pastry bag and filling tip, or, just serve the fillings as dipping sauces. Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over finished filled zeppole and serve.

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