This St. Joseph pastry recipe a.k.a. “Zeppole di San Giuseppe” is a baked pastry dough with a delicious vanilla custard filling and topped with powdered sugar and a cherry. It’s a dessert eaten in celebration of Father’s Day in Italy on March 19th, which is the feast of St. Joseph. EASY INSTRUCTIONS!
St. Joseph’s Day Pastry
Please read the cooking tips below BEFORE starting this recipe and read the entire recipe before starting it. If it’s your first time making it, I suggest allotting extra time. The full, printable recipe is in the recipe card at the bottom.
This delightful Italian pastry originated in the Campania region of Italy, which is where my parents (r.i.p.) were from. It’s much like cream puffs.
I still remember my aunt making zeppole many years ago when I was a little girl anxiously awaiting to eat one.
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What is the St. Joseph’s Pastry?
It’s a fried (meaning of zeppole) or baked pastry dough that contains a custard filling and usually topped with powdered sugar and a cherry.
The St. Joseph pastry Italian translation is “Zeppole di San Giuseppe.” Zeppole is a doughnut which means it’s fried however, as the pastry evolved, people started baking the dough instead of frying it. Therefore, you’ll often find the baked version in Italian bakeries.
Why is it called St. Joseph pastry?
As I mentioned above, this pastry originated in the Campagna region (Naples) of Italy and is eaten in celebration of the feast day of St. Joseph, which is March 19th. The tradition is celebrated in other parts of Italy and was brought to American and still celebrated by Italian Americans.
You may decide you want the fried version and that’s great too but, this version is healthier and less messy without the oil splatters.
Nonetheless, they’re delicious and not difficult to make with these easy instructions.
I like that this kit has clamps for the top of the piping bags and includes the various tips, couplers and even the flat edges for the sides of cakes. If only I had bought it sooner.
Cooking Tips (READ FIRST)
The full, printable recipe is in the recipe card at the bottom.
First, you’ll add butter, then water and salt to the pot. At one point, you’ll add all of the flour at one time and vigorously stir it. It will look like this when the cooking part of it is done on the stove. It will be solid and malleable.
Then, you will add the eggs, one at a time mixing after each.
Be sure to add one egg at a time to make the pastry per the instructions in the recipe card. When you’re done adding each egg, it shouldn’t be lumpy, but rather smooth as pictured below.
Also, pipe the dough into two circular layers- one on top of the other with a small hole in the center. This will help you get taller pastries that will be easier to cut.
I will warn you though, I’ve tested this recipe three times and found that you must bake the pastry dough long enough and at a high enough temperature or they will go flat after removing them from the oven. This may happen to you.
If yours come out flat, they’ll still taste good so don’t trash them. The picture below shows the dough that turned out flat. They were still very much edible and delicious! When this happened the first time, I just used two of the flat ones to make one filled pastry.
You want to bake the pastry dough in the oven at 400F for 25-30 minutes until they get browned, not just lightly browned. DON’T OPEN THE OVEN until they’re ready to come out or this will also make them go flat.
Keep an eye on them the last few minutes, because if your oven isn’t calibrated, it could be hotter or cooler than the temperature in which you set it.
They should puff up while in the oven and remain puffy after they cool. The pastry should be airy inside, not dense but, as I mentioned above, if they come out flat, taste them first. They may be fine to use, just not perfect.
- Use a non-stick pot and stir with a rubber spatula so it’ll be easier to clean and easier for when it starts to stick. However, if you use a stainless steel pot, use a whisk to stir.
- Get the milk hot but, NOT BOILING or you can curdle the eggs which is a common mistake among novice cooks. It happened to me when I was a new cook.
- Don’t walk away from the stove when you’re making the custard. You’ll stir it for a while and then suddenly, it begins to stick to the bottom of the pot. You’ll need to be there to pull it off so it doesn’t burn and you need to constantly stir it so it doesn’t get lumpy. It only takes a few minutes to start sticking.
Don’t they look amazing? Everyone that has eaten one has wanted more- adults and children alike.
You won’t be disappointed.
This pastry is delightful! They’re perfect for not only the feast of St. Joseph (March 19th) but, also to bring to Easter. They’re great for sharing. Eat them with your favorite cup of coffee.
Your friends and family will love these delicious desserts!
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See more Italian recipes.
I took this recipe to Weekend Potluck.
St. Joseph's Day Pastry
- 2 pastry bags with star tip optional (may use a gallon sized plastic bag and cut the corner)
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 12 marachino cherries or compote cherries
- First, in a medium sized pot on the stove on high heat, add butter and melt it. Immediately add the water (1 1/4 cups) and salt (1/2 tsp). As soon as it comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and add all of the flour. Stir until it becomes thick and maliable and then turn off heat.
- Next, place it into a large mixing bowl and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Then, mix the dough for about a minute.
- Important: Add eggs only ONE AT A TIME after each has been combined into the dough. The dough should be smooth after the last egg.
- Then, add parchment paper or silicone mats to two large baking sheets.
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Then, put the dough into a pastry bag with large star tip (optional) and begin piping the dough in round circles about two inches apart on the baking sheets. You can pipe one layer to use each as a top and a bottom, or you can pipe two layers on each to make them taller and then cut them in half when they're cool to fill with custard. The latter option will make larger pastries than the former.
- Next, bake them until they get a brown coating on top which will be about 25 minutes and then add 3-4 more minutes. They need to be lightly browned on top before you remove them. Do not remove them beforehand. My suggestion is to do one baking sheet at a time because the bottom rack may not brown as quickly as the top if you bake them at the same time. Let them cool.
- First, in a large mixing bowl, add egg yolks (6) and sugar (1/2 cup) and mix. Add the corn starch (1/2 cup) and 2/3 cup of the milk. Mix until smooth.
- Then, in a medium sized pot (non-stick preferably,) add remaining two cups of milk and 1/2 cup of butter. Heat it but, don't bring it to a boil. Turn the heat to low and begin adding the egg mixture. Stir quickly to combine and keep stirring it constantly until it thickens. Scrape the bottom when it starts sticking. Do not over cook or it'll burn. Remove from heat and cover and allow it cool until ready to use.
Pastry Assembly and Decoration
- First, place the pastry cream into a piping bag with the star tip but, it isn't necessary to use the pastry bag and star tip. You may also just spoon the cooked pastry dough into a gallon-sized plastic zipper bag and cut the corner one inch as a substitute piping bag and not use the star tip.
- Once the cooked pastry dough is cool, cut them half. If you ended up with flat pastry you may also use them and just pipe the cream on top of half of them and top them with the other half.
- Then, put a one inch dollop of cream on the top, in the middle as shown on each.
- Next, sprinkle with powdered sugar or do it just before serving.
- Then, top with a cherry on the dollop of cream. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Read Cooking Tips FIRST!
Pastry DoughI will warn you though, I've made this recipe in the testing phase and the pastry has gone flat after I'd removed it from the oven. They still taste good, but they didn't come out as puffy or lost their puffiness. This may happen to you. You want to keep them in the oven until they get browned on top PLUS add 3-4 more minutes at 375F.
- Use a non-stick pot so it'll be easier to clean and easier for when it starts to stick.
- Don't walk away from the stove when you're making the custard. You'll stir it for a while and then suddenly, it begins to stick to the bottom of the pot. You'll need to be there to pull it off so it doesn't burn and you need to constantly stir it so it doesn't get lumpy.
This recipe was adapted from Italian Recipe Book.