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Published April 10, 2023. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
This Zeppole Recipe is a classic Italian doughnut or dessert of simple fried dough that is coated, tossed in sugar, and served up. This classic treat is delicious and is sure to put smiles on faces.
Who doesn’t like a sweet treat with coffee or something sugary after a meal? If you or your family is the same, then you must try my Apple Crisp or Strawberry Shortcake.
Zeppole is an Italian donut-type pastry that is classically fried but can also be baked. They can have various fillings like custard, honey, almonds, jelly, or ricotta cheese. The unstuffed zeppoles are traditionally topped off with cinnamon, sugar, or powdered sugar. They can also be savory and are commonly served with sardines in Italy. Zeppole translates from Italian to English as a donut.
In certain parts of Italy, Zeppole is also known as Saint Joseph’s Day Cakes due to its affiliation with the festival of St. Joseph, which means you may have heard the name Zeppole di San Giuseppe. This is more of a choux pastry-type dough fried and served with a custard filling.
While it’s hard to pinpoint precisely how zeppoles were made, some folks believe they were fried in rendered fat or olive oil, while others believed they were baked in a Napolitano-style wood-burning oven. Some of the stories about zeppoles indicate if they were fried, they realized it was way too expensive to do it, so that didn’t become popularized until the 19th or 20th century.
- Flour – I used 00 flour, but regular bread flour will work.
- Milk – Whole milk works excellently, but you can also use skim milk, 2% milk, or even water.
- Eggs – Large eggs work perfectly and can be at room temperature or straight from the fridge.
- Yeast – Active or instant yeast is what you will need.
- Sugar – Regular granulated sugar is used in the dough. Powdered sugar is used at the end for sprinkling.
- Salt – I always use coarse sea salt in cooking and baking unless specified.
- Lemon – Some lemon zest will add some great flavors to the dough. This ingredient is optional.
How to Make Zeppoles from Scratch
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the warm milk, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and yeast until combined. Set it aside for 5 to 7 minutes or until a raft has formed.
In a separate large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, and lemon zest.
Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add in the 2 whisked eggs.
Mix in the eggs as much as possible.
Add in the milk and yeast mixture and combine until the ingredients are mixed.
Cover with plastic and keep in a warm dark place to proof for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Add the oil to a pot and heat until it reaches 350°.
Using two spoons, scoop out about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the batter and drop it into the oil.
Cook it for about 45 seconds per side or until browned. You will need to flip them over when frying so that both sides become brown.
Remove from the fryer and place on a rack to drain off any excess oil.
Immediately sprinkle on cinnamon, sugar, or powdered sugar. Serve warm.
What is the Difference Between Beignets and Zeppoles?
The main difference between a beignet and a zeppole is the dough as well as the shape. Zeppoles are looser than beignets, and the dough tends to be stickier. They’re also made by drop spooning them into oil, whereas beignets have a very distinct square or rectangle shape. Both are finished the same way with powdered sugar.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: These are meant to be eaten as soon as they’re done cooking. You can keep them warm before adding sugar on a rack in the oven at low temperatures (<200°) for 15 minutes before serving.
How to Store: Zeppoles, like beignets, don’t keep all that well, but if you must, keep them covered for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. You can, however, keep the dough for 2 days in the refrigerator before frying them. I do not recommend freezing them.
How to Reheat: The easiest way to warm up zeppoles would be in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds, but that may leave them with a weird texture. I suggest putting them on a pan covered in foil and baking them at 350° degrees for 6-8 minutes or until warm. Re-sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
Chef Notes + Tips
- Zeppoles, like a doughnut, are often eaten as a snack and can be eaten at breakfast.
- In Italy would be traditionally served with espresso or strong coffee, which is how I like to enjoy them as well.
- If you only have all-purpose flour, you must decrease the amount of milk by about 2 teaspoons.
- There is no need to wait for a raft to form when using instant yeast. In addition, active yeast may or may not form a raft, and if it doesn’t, it will not affect the outcome of the zeppole.
- A great proofing environment is in the oven with just the oven light on.
More Dessert Recipes
Homemade Zeppole Recipe (Italian Doughnuts)
- 1 1/4 cups warm whole milk, 112° to 115°
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon active yeast
- 2 ¼ cups 00 flour
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
- zest of ½ lemon, optional
- 2 large whisked eggs
- neutral oil for frying
- powdered sugar for garnish
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the warm milk, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and yeast until combined. Set it aside for 5 to 7 minutes or until a raft has formed.
- In a separate large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, and lemon zest.
- Form a well in the dry ingredients and add in the 2 whisked eggs.
- Mix in the eggs as much as possible.
- Add the milk and yeast mixture and combine until the ingredients are mixed.
- Cover with plastic and keep in a warm dark place to proof for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- Add the oil to a pot and heat until it reaches 350°.
- Using two spoons, scoop out about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the batter and drop it into the oil.
- Cook it for about 45 seconds per side or until browned. You must flip them over when frying so that both sides become brown.
- Remove from the fryer and place on a rack to drain off any excess oil.
- Immediately sprinkle on cinnamon, sugar, or powdered sugar. Serve warm.
You mention these can be baked, but no instructions for that. I would love to try them baked! Can you tell me at what temp and how long?
Thanks so much, love all your recipes!! 👍❤️
Sorry, I’m not seeing where I said they could be baked?
My question was about baking them as well……the first paragraph of the article says…”Zeppole is an Italian donut-type pastry that is classically fried but can also be baked.” It also says something about the history of them baking in a wood fired oven I believe.
Yes, that is how they were also done based on my research. However, without doing it myself, I can’t give you any instructions.
Our family recipe is a bit different … we have potato in the dough and add raisins. Family is from Calabria. I learned to make these along with crostini, honey balls, genettes, pizzelle, gnocchi etc etc lol with my grandmother. I am happy to carry on the traditions! I’m looking forward to trying this recipe.
Should I dare to try these without a stand mixer? I have time on my hands like most people these days.
These are addictive! I could eat way too many of them.
This looks amazing but is there a recipe in cups tbsp tsp ?
you could do a converter on youtube from ounces to cups, I just always find when I do that for baked goods they never turn out exactly like I want.
We LOVED these and they’re so simple to make!!!
Seriously so good. I wish I doubled the batch 🙂
These are delicious! They were really easy to make and my family loved them!
This is the only zeppole recipe recipe I made, super delicious, thank you so much!