Zeppole

zeppole

A couple years ago, my husband came home from work one day and asked, “Have you had a zeppole? They’re so good!” I had, in fact, never had a zeppole nor heard of them. So over the next couple of weeks, we went on a bit of an Italian bakery run trying to find zeppole for me to try.

Turns out zeppole are basically Italian doughnuts, and they come in many different forms: baked, fried, filled, and unfilled. After sampling a variety of zeppole, we realized our favorite were the Zeppole di San Giuseppe variety, which are basically doughnut-shaped cream puffs. Traditionally these are eaten to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day (a Catholic holiday in March), which is pretty much the only time you can find them in actual Italian bakeries in our area. But they’re too delicious to not be eaten the rest of year; and since they’re made from good ol’ choux, they’re easy enough to pull off at home!

A few notes:

  • Traditionally, this style of zeppole are garnished with canned sour cherries. This is delicious, but if you don’t have any you can just use some fresh fruit or a thick jam.
  • If you like a lighter/softer filling, you can whip up some heavy cream (I’d probably do 1/2 cup or so) and fold it into the pastry cream before filling the zeppole.
  • Zeppole are best consumed within 4 hours of assembling, but all the components can be prepared ahead of time: the pastry cream can be refrigerated up to 3 days and the choux rings can be baked and stored at room temperature for a couple of days (or frozen for longer storage). If the pastry softens during storage, recrisp by baking uncovered at 300°F for 5-8 minutes. Cool completely before filling.
choux pastry rings
baked zeppole

Zeppole

Makes about 10 zeppole

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe choux pastry (prepared through step 4)
  • 1 batch vanilla pastry cream (recipe below)
  • Thick fruit jam or preserves (I used strawberry)
  • Fresh fruit, canned sour cherries, or additional thick jam, to finish
  • Powdered sugar, to finish (optional)
For the vanilla pastry cream:
  • 1 1/2 c whole milk
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 100g granulated sugar, divided
  • 40g custard powder (or cornstarch)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 28g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Method:

  1. Make the vanilla pastry cream: Place a sieve over a heatproof container. Combine the whole milk and heavy cream in a medium saucepan along with 80g of the sugar. Whisk to combine.
  2. In a medium bowl, place the remaining 20g granulated sugar and sift in the custard powder or cornstarch. Pour in a splash of the milk-cream mixture and whisk to combine (this helps prevent lumpy custard). Add a bit more of the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks.
  3. Bring the remaining milk-cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Once it has reached a simmer, remove from the heat and slowly pour into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium to medium high heat, whisking continuously.
  4. As soon as the mixture thickens and large bubbles appear, turn the heat to low and continue whisking on the heat for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain into the prepared container. Whisk in the butter, followed by the vanilla extract.
  5. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard to keep a skin from forming. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until chilled (at least three hours, or up to 3 days).
  6. Bake the zeppole: Preheat the oven to 425F with a rack in the middle. On a large piece of parchment using a cookie cutter or other round object, trace about ten 2 1/2 inch circles. Space the circles at least 2 inches apart. Place the parchment on a large baking sheet (with the tracing on the underside so you don’t get pen/pencil onto your zeppole). Transfer the choux dough to a large piping bag fitted with an open star/French piping tip. Pipe rings of choux using the tracings as a guide. After you’ve piped all the bases, go back and pipe another, smaller ring on the top inside edge of the bottom ring. (If you have any dough left, you can pipe little cream puffs to use it up.) Dust the rings with icing sugar.
  7. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375F and continue baking until the rings are puffed and a deep golden brown — about another 20-30 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet after about 30 minutes total baking time — avoid opening the oven door any sooner, or your pastry may collapse. After the rings are finished but still hot, pierce the bottoms with a skewer or paring knife and return to the turned-off oven for 10 minutes to allow the steam to escape and the insides to dry out (prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon). Transfer rings to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before filling.
  8. Assemble the zeppole: Whisk the chilled pastry cream to loosen and transfer to a piping bag fitted with an open star tip.
  9. Using a sharp serrated knife, trim off the top third of the choux rings and set aside. Remove any soft bits from inside the shells.
  10. Spread a thin layer of jam on the bottom of the rings. Pipe the cream on top. Place the tops back on and pipe a dollop of cream in the centers. Garnish with a sour cherry, fresh fruit, or a dab of jam. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours. (The pastry will eventually start to soften, so it’s best to fill the zeppole shortly before eating.)
baked zeppole with garnish

Smoked Paprika and Cheddar Gougeres

gougeres on plate

This post is sponsored by Weight Watchers Canada. Find out more about the WW Freestyle program, which encourages the freedom to eat the foods you love while nudging you towards healthier choices using the SmartPoints system. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

With the holidays fast approaching, we all need a few back-pocket recipes that are good for crowds, easy to prepare, and — most importantly — delightfully delicious. This is one of those recipes for me. Gougeres, or French cheese puffs, are made with the classic pate a choux dough. But instead of filling the puffs with cream or custard, you mix some herbs, cheese, and spices into the dough to make savory little appetizers that go down just right with a glass of wine or a cup of mulled cider. I dare you to eat just one!

gougeres close up

gougeres top down

A couple of notes:

  • If you’ve made pate a choux before — perhaps for eclairs or cream puffs — this recipe should feel very familiar to you. I prefer using bread flour and a mixture of milk and water when making pate a choux. The bread flour gives strength to the dough and helps the gougeres keep their shape better. The mixture of milk and water gives the puffs a more tender chew and flavor, but you can also use all water.
  • You can substitute other sharp, hard cheeses (or use a mixture) for the cheddar. Part of the fun of this recipe is making it your own: add some cayenne if you like a little heat, or switch out the scallions for other fresh, chopped herbs of your choice.
  • You can make smaller, bite-size gougeres if you prefer (this recipe will probably yield 30 or so). Just keep an eye on them in the oven as they’ll likely be done sooner than these large ones.

Smoked Paprika and Cheddar Gougeres

Makes about 15 large gougeres

Ingredients

  • 75g water
  • 75g milk
  • 75g butter
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • A few turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • 100g bread flour, sifted
  • 150g eggs (about 3 large), room temperature and lightly beaten to combine
  • 100g grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1/4 c finely chopped scallions

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425F with a rack in the middle and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (I used a 13×18 sheet pan; if yours are smaller you may need two. Bake on the top and bottom racks in the oven).
  2. Combine the water, milk, butter, sugar, salt, paprika, mustard, and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a strong simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as the mixture is simmering, remove the pot from the heat and dump the flour in all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is completely incorporated.
  3. Return the pot to low heat and continue stirring until the mixture forms a ball and a thin film forms on the bottom of the pot, 1-2 minutes. An instant-read thermometer should read 170F. Immediately transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  4. Mix the dough on low speed for a couple of minutes to release the steam. An instant-read thermometer should read no warmer than 140F (any hotter and you’ll cook the eggs when adding them!). When the dough has cooled sufficiently and with the mixer still on low, add about half of the eggs. Mix until the egg has been completely absorbed, then add more egg about a tablespoon at a time, mixing completely before adding more. When you’ve added most of the egg, check the dough consistency — a finger dragged through it should leave a trough and a peak of dough should form where the finger is lifted. Once the dough passes this test, it’s ready. (You may not need all the egg.)
  5. Set aside about a quarter of the cheese. Add the remaining 3/4 of the cheese and the scallions to the dough and use a silicone spatula to combine.
  6. Using a cookie scoop (I used an OXO #40), scoop golf-ball size portions of dough onto the prepared sheet, leaving a couple inches between each. (You can also transfer the mixture to a piping bag pipe out mounds, or use a couple of spoons.) Sprinkle the tops of the gougeres with the reserved cheese.
  7. Bake the gougeres for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes, or until the gougeres are browned and feel hollow when you pick one up. Avoid opening the oven for the first 20 minutes of baking or the gougeres may collapse. Cool in a slightly ajar oven for about 10 minutes.
  8. Gougeres are best served still slightly warm from the oven, though I’ve heard you can recrisp them in the oven for a few minutes. Mine have never lasted long enough to test, though…