The zeppola di san Giuseppe is a typical sweet of the Campania region’s pastry tradition, spread with some variations throughout most of southern Italy.
The zeppole di San Giuseppe are fried cakes made of choux pastry, circular in shape and with a central hole, decorated with wisps of custard with a black cherry in syrup on top and dusted with icing sugar.
Typically fried, in modern times a less calorific baked variant has become popular.
The recipe is very old, as Goethe, the famous German writer, tells us during the stage of his grand tour in Italy of the preparation of zeppole on 19 March 1787 (St Joseph’s Day). “Today is the feast day of the patron saint of all fryers”, writes Goethe, “that is, those who trade in fried pastries, of a lesser kind, of course (…) Large frying pans stand in front of every door on light ovens. A boy makes doughnuts (zeppole) and throws them into the boiling hot oil”.
In Naples, the name zeppola is also used to refer to pastacresciute, a speciality of typical fryers, made of fried dough similar to that used to make fried pizzas.
The name ‘zeppola di San Giuseppe’ comes from the fact that zeppole are prepared on 19 March, St Joseph’s Day, Father’s Day (close to the spring equinox), although legend has it that they take their name from St Joseph who, fleeing to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, became a ‘fritter’ to support his family.