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The Pastry No One Can Resist on St. Joseph’s Day

Gandolfo Cannatella/Shutterstock

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 03/18/16

Sfingi (Italian cream puffs) are a traditional way to celebrate Jesus' earthly father

St. Joseph’s Day is March 19, and one of the traditional foods to celebrate the day is an Italian pastry called Sfingi di San Giuseppe.

Sfingi (pronounced sfINgy) is basically a form of zeppole. Sometimes it’s deep-fried but can also be baked in the oven. Many in the U.S. refer to sfingi as cream puffs (known as pâte à choux in France) — since they’re filled with a ricotta creme, or a custard in some cases. 

Sfingi di San Giuseppe can be found in Sicilian and Italian bakeries at this time of year — or  you can make a tasty version yourself. There are many recipes online, some made in muffin tins. Here’s a sfingi recipe which appeared in the food section of The Washington Post. It was adapted from A Lenten Cookbook for Catholics, by Angelo Stagnaro (Tau Publishing, 2013) and tested by Jane Touzalin.

Sfingi di San Giuseppe (Cream Puffs) 

Serves 16

For the sfingi:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

For the filling and assembly:

  • 16 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon rum (may substitute 1 tablespoon rum extract)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup whole or low-fat milk, or as needed
  • 16 maraschino cherries, drained, for garnish

Directions here for the sfingi and for the filling and assembly.

If you’re a nervous baker — and even great bakers can be uncomfortable with pastry dough — you might call on the help of St. Joseph. He’s not only the patron of artisans and craftsmen, but of families, fathers, carpenters, workers, the dying, a happy death, doubters, travelers, house sellers and hunters, and numerous countries including Canada, China, and Mexico, as well as the Universal Church.

A common prayer to St. Joseph, often used for a nine-day novena, goes way back to the early days of Christianity. This was one reportedly sent by the pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into battle in 1505:

Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God. I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh, St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of fathers.Oh, St. Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while he reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss his fine head for me and ask him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me.

Zoe Romanowskyis lifestyle editor and video content producer at Aleteia.

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