Zeppola is often served with ground chickpeas.
Zeppola is a southern Italian dessert, a small, round, deep-fried cake, similar to a large donut hole, that is usually filled with cream or with a filling close to that used in traditional cannoli. The plural of zeppola can be written as zeppoli or zeppole, and to confuse things the dumplings can have two completely different names: sfinge or Bigne di San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph’s Day Cakes). The latter name refers to the fact that zeppoles are often served on Saint Joseph’s Day, March 19, which is somewhat analogous to the celebration of Father’s Day in the United States, although it also honors Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary.
Zeppole are traditionally stuffed with cream.
Each zeppola is relatively small, about two inches (5.08 cm) wide. The dough used to make them is typically quick bread dough, although some variants may use sourdough bread dough. The dough is not usually sweetened and relies on being stuffed or dipped to add sweetness. In the simplest form, the zeppole cannot be filled and is only given a light dusting of cinnamon sugar. Other times, bakeries make the distinction between a zeppola and a sfinge, suggesting that sfinge are those zeppolas stuffed with cream, whereas a real zeppola is always stuffed with a sweetened ricotta cheese.
The traditional zappola features ricotta cheese filling.
In Italy, especially in the southern regions and along the Italian peninsula, you will notice zeppole sold in most bakeries. As Saint Joseph’s Day approaches, several street vendors, called friggitorie, meaning fried food stalls, sell zeppola to the waiting crowds. You’ll also find these little cakes stuffed with some unusual ingredients in certain regions. They can, for example, be savory rather than sweet and contain anchovy paste, ricotta cheese with chickpeas and spices, or a variety of other ingredients.
In Italy, especially in the southern regions and along the Italian peninsula, zeppole is sold in most bakeries.
There are some zeppole recipes that are baked instead of fried. Other recipes suggest that you lightly roast each zeppola before frying it. The writers of these recipes claim that pre-cooking reduces oiliness and frying time and results in a lighter, lower-calorie dessert. If you want to cut calories, baking cakes is the best option, and you can cut calories even further by stuffing the zeppoli with any kind of fruit jam or spreads instead of cream or ricotta.
Another popular way to serve a zeppola is to dip it in honey. In many regions, when sweet zeppoli are made, whether filled or not, they are sprinkled with whipped cream on top and then covered with a cherry. If you buy them at a bakery, they might be sitting around for a while. Some say the best way to eat them is directly from the refrigerator sellers, when they are at their hottest and freshest. Of course, making them at home means you can eat them right after you let them cool down a bit.