Italian Cream Puffs for St. Joseph's Day

Italian cream puffs are always made around this time of year and especially on March 19th, the Feast of San Giuseppe, (St. Joseph's Day). Delicate cream puffs are baked first, then filled with 2 different kinds of cream, one with a vanilla custard (the Neopolitan version, known as the zeppola or zeppoli) and the other (the Sicilian version) traditionally known as the Sfinge, is filled with a rich cannoli-cream. Then topped with a maraschino cherry... and BOY- how we always look forward to these wonderful treats every year!

The Sfinge is a very popular Sicilian treat, always made on March 19th, the Feast of San Giuseppe. The feast honors the patron saint of all fathers, and since my husband's name is Joseph (and born near Palermo, Sicily), I wanted to surprise him with his childhood favorite pastry - the Sfinge.  My sister and I also grew up with these gems, but they have a special meaning to my husband.  They were always consumed on his name Saint Day, which in Italy, is a celebration that is larger than one's own birthday.

The Sfinge is a deep fried pastry filled with candied citrus and a rich ricotta cream, and it is a central part to Palermo's culture in Sicily. While they are consumed primarily on St. Joseph's Day, they are now made all year-round in Sicily and can be found in every pasty shop all over Italy.

The traditional ingredients always used to make these delicious pastries are butter, eggs and flour.  But I decided to bake them, instead of deep-frying.  Next, I made both cream fillings (recipes for both are at the bottom of this post).  The cannoli-cream filling is made with whole milk ricotta, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest, cinnamon, and mini chocolate chips.

The Neopolitan cream puff also is usually deep-fried, but filled with a vanilla custard cream.  Today, I decided to make a simple custard cream, by simply mixing vanilla pudding and whipped cream together and fill a few pastries for everyone to enjoy both variations in honor of St. Joseph's Day.  Both cream puffs are very light, airy, and creamy delicious!
Whether you choose the Neapolitan or Sicilian version of this recipe, you honor St. Joseph and take part of his Feast Day.  This dessert will have you ready to start thinking about dishes to prepare for the next Spring holiday to follow- Easter!  I am already planning delicious recipes to come, so stay tuned!


Italian Cream Puffs - for St. Joseph's Day

  • 3/4 stick (6 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  
Prepare 2 cooking sheets for baking.  Lightly spray with cooking spray, or use silicon mats, or parchment paper.

In a medium sauce pot, heat butter with water and salt over high heat.
Stirring until butter is completed melted.

Reduce the heat to low, add sifted flour - all at once - and with a fork or wooden spoon, stir vigorously, until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball.

Remove from heat, transfer the dough into a mixing bowl to cool, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously (with a wooden spoon) after each addition until it comes to a smooth and creamy texture.  The soft mixture should have a satin-like sheen to it.

Drop by tablespoon (I used 2 spoons to help me scoop and drop the dough onto the baking sheet), about 3-inches apart onto each baking sheet. Shaping each one round with points up in the center.

BAKE for 18 to 20 minutes for 18 medium size pastries.

Remove and prick each pastry on top with a skewer.  This will allow the steam inside to escape. Then return to oven for 2 to 3 minutes more.  Pastries should be firm to the touch.

Remove and set aside to cool completely before filling.

Yields: 18 to 20 Italian pastries / cream puffs

Ricotta Cream Filling

  • 3 +1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese (I used Galbani), drain any liquid
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar, and extra for garnish
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • small jar of maraschino cherries, rinse and pat dry
  • Optional: candied citrus to garnish
In a mixing bowl, gently stir ricotta, powdered sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and cinnamon until well combined. Stir in mini chocolate chips, or more to your liking.  Refrigerate for about 2 hours,
or chill over night before filling the pastries.

When ready, slice each pastry in half.  Fill each one with ricotta cream and close the tops.  Garnish with an extra dab of ricotta cream on top, and add one maraschino cherry on top. Optional: also add a piece of candied citrus on top.  Lightly sprinkle with some powdered sugar over them and serve.

Yields: 3.5 cups

Vanilla Custard Filling

  • 1 box (3.4 ounce) instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. confectioners sugar, and extra to garnish
  • maraschino cherries, to garnish

In a blender, blend on low speed, 1 cup of milk with 1 package of instant vanilla pudding. Set aside

In a small bowl, beat heavy cream and vanilla for 2 to 3 minutes, until it forms peaks, add in powdered sugar and beat for 1 to 2 minutes more.  Fold in the vanilla pudding. Chill for 2 hours or over night.

When ready to serve, fill cream puffs, close with tops.  Add a dap more of vanilla custard on top. Top each with a maraschino cherry and sprinkle with some powdered sugar.  Serve.

Yields: 3.5 cups

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