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St Josephs Day Pastries (Zeppole di San Giuseppe)

St. Joseph’s Day Pastries are traditional Italian pastries specifically prepared on March 19th each year to celebrate the feast of St. Joseph Day. The pastry shells are deep-fried are filled or topped with a vanilla pastry cream, dusted with powdered sugar, and topped with a cherry or sour cherry preserves (Amarena cherries ideally but maraschino will also do as they are more widely available in the USA).

These are very popular in Italian and Italian American communities on St Joseph’s Day.

A plate of St Josephs's Pastries.

As Lidia says, “give me a dessert, and I’ll tell you what holiday it is connected to” …”in Italy, a holiday is not a holiday without its designated food”.


In his cookbook, Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania, Arthur Schwartz talks briefly about the history of St. Joseph’s day pastries. According to Schwartz, the bigne form of these pastries (using pate a choux) were invented in 1840 by Don Pasquale Pintauro and the Pintaura passicceria located in Naples at Via Roma 275 still stands out for as a highly regarded bakery (apparently also known for their amazing sfogliatelle (I’ve also made homemade sfogliatelle and lobster tail pastries). Until then, they were made simply of flour and water (or milk) and were considerably heavier. The heavier version, he states, are still made for Christmas and are called Zeppole di Natale or in dialect, scauratielli.

For a visual tour of some of the best St. Joseph’s Day pastries in Italy, visit the Italian food review site, Puntavilla Rossa.

Interestingly, the term Zeppole (see Varieties for some idea) can refer to many different desserts in Italy, such as fried dough with powdered sugar, which is made at Christmastime.


The shell is simply a sweetened pate a choux dough, the same dough used to make cream puffs. However, traditionally, this dough is fried instead of baked, as it is when making cream puffs.

The filling is a classic vanilla pastry cream (similar to that in peach cookies) and then the pastries are dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a cherry (if you have access to Amarena cherries they are sooo GOOD).

The ingredients below are for the shells and for the filling/pastry cream.

Ingredients for St Joseph's pastries.

Another popular pastry eaten for St Joseph’s Day is Sfingi di San Giuseppe. These are very similar (the shells has the same ingredients), except they are topped or filled with sweetened ricotta, similar to what is used in classic cannolis.

Step by Step

These pastries are pretty simple to make, but they traditionally involve a bit of frying, which is probably the messiest part. If you’d like to bake them instead, please see the Recipe Card below for complete instructions.

Making the Pastry Shells

  1. Melt the butter, water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan.
  2. Add the flour and mix well.
  3. This step is finished when a stiff dough forms. Let it cool a few minutes so the eggs don’t scramble during the next step.
  4. Place the dough in a bowl, beat it, and then add your eggs one at a time.
  5. The dough will transform into a thick paste.
  6. Use a large pastry bag with a star tip to pipe the dough into circles about 3 inches in diameter onto parchments squares.
Steps to make the pastry shells.

To Make the Filling (Vanilla Pastry Cream)

  1. Place sugar and cornstarch in a medium sized bowl and combine well.
  2. Add eggs and then mix well so the mixture has no lumps, and then bring milk and flavorings (vanilla with or without citrus zest) to a simmer on the stove.
  3. Pour the milk very slowly into the egg mixture while beating vigorously – we want to temper the eggs.
  4. Return the mixture to the stovetop pot and whisk while heating until the mixture thickens.
  5. The pastry cream is used to fill or top the shells with the latter probably being a bit more popular, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to add more cream by filling them!
Grid of pastry making process shown in steps.

The dough and the filling can be made one day in advance, but they should be filled within 4 hours of eating.

Top Tips

You may prepare the dough and filling one day ahead and refrigerate for the next day.

When frying, do not let them get deeply golden, but rather medium medium golden.

They are best enjoyed when just cooked or within a few hours, but they can be re-crisped in a 350F-degree oven for a few minutes.

Do not fill the pastries any sooner than 4 hours before eating them.

Cross section of Zeppole di San Giuseppe.

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Recipe Card

📖 Recipe

Side view of St Joseph's pastries topped with cherries and filled with pastry cream.

St Joseph’s Day Pastries

Indulge in the sweet tradition of St. Joseph's Day with pastries that promise a moment of bliss in every bite—flaky pastry filled with vanilla custard/pastry cream. These are a must for Italian Father's Day!
5 from 1 vote
Author: Marie
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
Filling and Decorating 30 minutes
Total Time 56 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Servings 12 pastries
Calories 502 kcal


  • Parchment paper I find this makes it easy to transfer the pastries to the hot oil
  • 2 large piping bags
  • 2 star tips To pipe the pastries and to pipe the filling (in a pinch, you can use a plastic storage bag with the corner snipped off)
  • deep fryer or large deep pot for frying may also bake instead of frying


For the Pastry Shells

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • Vegetable oil for frying

For the Vanilla Pastry Cream

  • 2 cups milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3.5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 small orange or lemon zest only (optional)
  • powdered sugar for topping
  • candied cherries or sour cherry preserves for topping (candied can be maraschino or more traditionally, Amareno cherries)



  • These are best made within one hour of enjoying them. The dough and filling can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Plan to fry them within 4 hours and fill them within 1 hour of serving. The shells can be reheated (unfilled) for a few minutes at 350F to re-crisp.


  • If you plan to fry, cut twelve to sixteen parchment paper squares (about 4 inches by 4 inches [~10 cm]) and set them aside.
  • Set two large piping bags with star tips inside large cups (one for the dough and the other for the topping/filling). This set-up will make it easier to fill the bags with the pastry dough and the filling later on.
  • If you will fry the shells, line a large plate with paper towels to store the zeppole after frying in the next step.

To Make the Dough

  • To make the dough, combine water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and boil over medium heat.
  • Once boiling, add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. This should take about 1-2 minutes or less.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes so the eggs don't scramble during the next step when you add them.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition until fully incorporated. I use a hand mixer for this. The dough should be smooth and shiny.

To Shape and Fry the Shells (see Note 1 if Baking Shells)

  • If you'd like to bake the shells, see Note 1 below.
  • Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.
  • Pipe small rounds of dough (~2.5- to 3-inch circles) onto the parchment-paper-lined baking squares.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a large pot or deep fryer to 375°F (190°C).
  • Carefully transfer a few zeppole into the hot oil, with the parchment paper side up. The zeppole will easily detach from the paper as they fry.
  • Fry the the zeppole until golden brown and puffed up, about 3-4 minutes per batch. Turn them halfway through cooking to ensure even browning.
  • Remove the zeppole from the oil using a slotted spoon and transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Repeat with remaining zeppole.

To Make the Vanilla Pastry Cream and Fill or Top the Pastries

  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch well and then add eggs and and mix well.
  • Warm milk and flavorings (vanilla with or without lemon/orange zest) in a small pot until small bubbles appear on the rim.
  • Pour about one third of hot milk slowly into egg mixture while whisking vigorously and then return the egg mixture to the pot with the milk.
  • Continue heating and whisking until thickened, about 2 minutes or more. Ensure to mix the sides and edges well or else it will burn.
  • Transfer to a bowl or plastic container and cover with plastic wrap to prevent a film from developing. Use when cooled.
  • You can either top each pastry with a large circle of cream or fill them and top them too. To fill, cut each pastry horizontally like a sandwich when cooled, and fill the center with pastry cream.
  • Top each with a small circle of pastry cream and a cherry or cherry preserves. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately.


Note 1 (To Bake instead of Fry): 
Pipe pastries onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 for 20 minutes.
Ensure they are golden brown before turning off the oven or they will deflate/fall.
Turn off the oven and let the puffs cool for 5 to 10 minutes with the oven door ajar.
Nutrition: The estimated calories per pastry decrease by ~150 if you bake instead of fry. 
Total Time: Remember that total frying time will be longer since you will probably have to fry these in batches (6 minutes is the estimate for each batch, which is most likely three maximum).
Make Ahead: Dough and filling may be made one day ahead and refrigerated; Do not fill until 1 hour before serving. Do not fry until about 4 hours before serving. 


Calories: 502kcalCarbohydrates: 24gProtein: 11gFat: 41gSaturated Fat: 14gPolyunsaturated Fat: 13gMonounsaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0.5gCholesterol: 199mgSodium: 129mgPotassium: 175mgFiber: 1gSugar: 12gVitamin A: 717IUVitamin C: 0.2mgCalcium: 170mgIron: 1mg
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