Zeppole are one of the most popular Italian sweet snacks: a delicious bite to taste walking around the downtown of Naples! This recipe is incredibly ancient and comes directly from the Roman Empire cuisine. Here the recipe and the history of these Italian doughnuts!
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ORIGIN OF ZEPPOLE (GRAFFE)
The tradition of fritters in Italy comes from the Roman Empire times: during the Liberalia festivity, the people had been celebrating the Ancient God Bacchus drinking wine and eating sweet doughnuts.
Depending on the Italian regions, the fritters change name and ingredients, can be sweet or salty, filled with different creams or not.
Zeppola (plur. Zeppole) is the traditional name of the fritters in the southern Italian regions like Campania, Apulia, or Calabria. The origin of this name has different theories: most likely it derives from the Latin word Serpula, that means snake. This is for the original shape of the Zeppola: a twisted log of dough, similar to a sitting snake. This shape another name of Zeppola survived to our times: Graffa (plural Graffe), that means paper pin in Neapolitan Dialect.
In Naples, the traditional street food seller is called Zeppularo. Commonly the Neapolitan Zeppole are sweet, but someone call the salted fritters usually named Pastacresciute, Zeppole as well.
ZEPPOLE DI SAN GIUSEPPE
Besides the traditional Zeppole, The Zeppole di San Giuseppe are likely the most famous variation, even more popular than the original one. These particular fritters are topped with pastry cream and black cherries. Traditionally, they are prepared to honor the Father’s day celebrated in Italy every the 19th March. The first written recipe of these Zeppole appeared on the cookbook “La Cucina Teorico-Pratica” by Ippolito Cavalcanti, but probably they were prepared since the XV Century.
NEAPOLITAN ZEPPOLE SHAPES
The original shape of Zeppole is a twisted lof of dough to form a look. This shape is still used, but nowadays the doughnuts shape is very popular. Finally, the ball shape is pretty appreciated, particularly for the savory variation of Zeppole.
ZEPPOLE TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
FLAVORS – The traditional flavors for Zeppole are Lemon and Orange zests, and Vanilla extract or seeds. Some chefs prefer to use just some of them, some other use for all of them. You want to choose organic fruit, then wash and dry thoroughly before grating.
OIL – The best oils for frying Zeppole are sunflowers or peanuts. In some regions like Apulia, it is traditional to use melted lard.
COOKING – let the oil reach 330° F (165° C) before starting to fry the first Zeppola. You want to maintain the oil temperature between 330° F (165° C) and 345° F (175° C). The time f cooking is 2 to 3 minutes per side. If it is your first time, start with one single Zeppola, then break it: if the timing and the temp of cooking are correct, proceed to fry the other Zeppole, 3 or 4 at a time.
STORING – Unfortunately, the Zeppole last just a couple of days. Store them into a tin box or under a glass dome. I do not recommend refrigeration.
- 1 Lb (450 g) all-purpose flour
- 7 oz (200 g) golden potatoes, peeled and boiled
- 1 organic lemon
- 1 organic orange
- 2 eggs
- 1 drop vanilla extract
- 1/4 oz packet (7 g) active yeast
- 5.5 tbsp (80 g) butter
- 1/2 cup (115 g) sugar (plus 1 cup for the decoration)
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) whole milk
- 1 tsp (5 g) table salt
- 1.5 Qt (1.5 Lt) Sesame or peanuts oil
- FIRST STEPS
First of all, chop the butter, pour it in a bowl and let it soft into a turned off oven with the light on: you want the butter soft, not melted.
After that, melt the yeast into the room temperature milk along with a pinch of sugar.
Then, peel and mash the boiled potatoes.
Finally, grate the lemon and the orange peel, avoiding the under skin white part.
- ZEPPOLE MIXTURE
Now, sift the flour and pour it into a bowl along with the mashed potatoes, the lemon and orange peels, the eggs, the vanilla extract, the milk with the yeast, the softened butter, and the sugar. Knead the mixture with your hands until obtaining a smooth and consistent dough, adding the salt on the halfway. To obtain the perfect texture, you want to knead the dough as less as possible.
Once ready, model the dough into a ball, place it in the bowl, and wrap the bowl with plastic. Let the dough rise 30 minutes into the turned off oven.
- SHAPING ZEPPOLE
At this point, divide the dough into 2 oz balls, then cover with a kitchen towel.
Now you need to decide which shape for the zeppola you prefer:
A) the classic one: a ribbon also called Graffa. To prepare this, shape the ball into a log, then pinch it creating an eyelet.
B) the doughnuts: flatten a little the ball, then create a hole in the center with your finger. Finally, enlarge the hole shaping a doughnut.
Shape all the ball, then place the Zeppole over a parchment paper lined with a little of the flour. Give enough space between the fritters to ease the rising. Cover the Zeppole with a kitchen towel and let them rise 60 to 90 minutes until they double their size or so.
- FRYING ZEPPOLE
Once ready, pour the oil into a deep saucepan, then place over medium heat. For a perfect fried Zeppola, you need to maintain the oil temperature between 330° F (165° C) and 345° F (175° C).
Now, pour the Zeppole very gently into the oil and deep fry 3 or 4 at a time. Deep fry the fritters 2 or 3 minutes per side, then raise with a slotted spoon and let them rest a minute over a paper towel. Finally, poach the Zeppole still hot into the sugar to obtain a sweet crust on both sides.
- SERVING ZEPPOLE
Serve the zeppole immediately or store into a metal box or under a glass dome on room temperature up to a couple of days.
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