Perfectly crisp on the outside and airy on the inside, these little Zeppole donuts are a classic Italian pastry that is unbelievably delicious and incredibly easy to make. With just a few simple pantry ingredients and this foolproof recipe, you can easily make these Italian sweet treats right at home to share with your whole family!
Very popular on St. Joseph’s Day in Italy and commonly found at Italian festivals, zeppole dates back to ancient Rome when people began frying dough and then topping it with sugar. They are basically little donuts made from pate choux pastry dough, which is the kind of dough that is also used to make cream puffs and eclairs. It’s a type of dough that doesn’t require any yeast or leavening agent and is first cooked on the stove. It’s then placed in a pastry bag to be piped out and fried to form various shapes and sizes.
In this zeppole recipe, we will be making a simple type of zeppole that is basically fried donut balls that are dusted with lots of powdered sugar that you can pop right into your mouth. This version isn’t topped with any cream or formed into a fancy shape like other variations you may find. Yet, the core of the zeppole dough and the cooking process is exactly the same.
To start, add the butter, water, milk, sugar, and salt to a medium saucepan that holds at least 3 quarts photo 1. Then bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring often photo 2. Next, remove the saucepan from the heat and dump the flour in all at once photo 3. Now, stir the flour into the wet mixture with a wooden spoon until it’s fully incorporated and forms a compact ball photo 4. Then put the saucepan back on the stove and cook the mixture for a couple of minutes over low heat while stirring constantly. You will know the mixture is ready when it’s smooth and there is a film on the bottom of the saucepan.
Once the base of the dough is made, transfer the flour mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment photo 5. You can also use an electric hand mixer for this step if you prefer. Now, allow the dough to cool for a few minutes. It’s crucial that you don’t add the eggs to hot dough. Then beat the eggs one at a time into the dough at low speed. It’s important that each egg be fully incorporated into the dough before you add the next one. Then after all the eggs are added, beat the mixture for another 1 to 2 minutes or until it’s glossy and has a smooth pipeable consistency.
Put the dough into a piping bag with a ½-inch opening or into a ziplock bag and then cut a ½-inch opening at the tip photo 6. Then heat about 4 inches of oil to 375˚F in a deep pot or in a deep fryer. However, it’s very important for safety reasons that you do not heat the oil until just a few minutes before frying the zeppole. It’s also a good idea to use a digital cooking thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil.
Now, pipe 1-inch lengths of the dough into the hot oil being very careful not to splash yourself. The best way to do this step is to pipe close the surface of the oil and then quickly pull the pastry bag away. Then cook the donuts for 2 minutes on each side until crispy and golden brown photo 7. You will most likely need to fry the zeppole in several batches so that you don’t crowd the pot. Then when each batch is done, remove the donuts from the hot oil with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil photo 8.
After all the donuts have been fried, use a fine mesh sieve to dust them generously with powdered sugar and then serve them right away. You can also sprinkle them with a bit of cinnamon sugar instead or other spices if you like.
Try other Italian feast desserts:
In this delicious recipe, we cover a very traditional and easy type of zeppole to make. However, there are many variations of the pastry. As mentioned the Italian doughnuts can be made with different types of doughs, fillings, and toppings.
One of the most popular types is zeppole di San Giuseppe, also called St Joseph’s pastries, which has a ridged dough base with a creamy yellow custard filling and is topped with a single beautiful cherry. But there is also zeppole di San Gennaro which is made with common pizza dough that has been combined with ricotta cheese and fried into little balls that are then covered in sugar. Or, zeppole di Carnevale which are similar to San Gennaro but typically have a pastry cream filling.
As well as, two very simple types that are very different from each other. Zeppole di Natale alla Sorrentina served during the Christmas season is simple fried dough covered in colorful sprinkles. But the most unique type is zeppole calabresi which is also simple dough but with anchovies inside.
Zeppole is best eaten fresh. However, they can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days in an airtight container or covered in plastic wrap. They do not freeze well.
While they appear similar, they are not the same pastry. Beignets are French and square in shape. Yet, zeppole is Italian and round. Their recipes can also vary in the number of eggs used as well as the use of leavening agents.