Zeppole are a traditional Italian doughnut–a Christmas treat, but the internet holds many different descriptions and definitions of what they are. Some versions are carefully piped, some are made as small doughnut holes, and some are roughly free-form. Years ago I ate the latter rendition in New York at the San Gennaro Street Festival in Little Italy, (which is held in September, so these aren’t just for Christmas) and he loved them so much he knew we needed a post about them.
Our version here is based on the Beignet recipe from our book New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; the dough is no-knead, of course, and is lightly flavored with orange and lemon. I must admit I was a little nervous not pulling out my doughnut cutter to make perfect circles, but we need to embrace the irregular shape: let go and toss the roughly-shaped dough in to the very hot oil.
The golden brown Zeppole that emerged a few minutes later were absolutely delicious; their haphazard shapes gave them a charming quality, and the gentle citrus flavors were lovely. I’m not Italian, but these really are too good not to anyone’s Holiday tradition. And if you’ve been to the blog before at this time of year, you’ll remember these zeppole are very, very similar to Hannukah soufganiot (see the soufganiot post for more on frying up doughnuts).
On Instagram.com/breadin5, you can watch an Instagram reel and see us make the zeppole! WE’VE RE-SCHEDULED OUT INSTAGRAM-LIVE EVENT ON THESE DOUGHNUTS FOR FRIDAY, 1/28/22, SEE YOU AT INSTAGRAM.COM/BREADIN5 (it’s still there…).
This recipe is based on the beignet recipe from our book, New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, page 316.
2 3/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon Red Star Platinum yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest (you will need a microplane zester)
1 tablespoon Morton Kosher Salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable Oil – 3 to 4 inches deep (use a pot that is large enough that your oil is not sitting too high in the pot)
Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
Combine the warm water, orange juice yeast, sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a 5-quart bowl; preferably, in a lidded (not airtight) plastic container or food-grade bucket. Mix until all of the flour is incorporated using a stand mixer or dough whisk. Cover, and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours. You can use the dough right away, or refrigerate it for up to 14 days.
On Baking Day (if you need to see a visual, you can check out our other post on doughnuts here, with more pictures on shaping and frying):
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lightly grease the parchment.
Pull out 3 oz pieces of dough (peach-sized) piece of dough, and flatten them slightly (the whole bucket of dough will make 15 to 20 zeppole, but you can do fewer pieces if desired). Place them on the prepared pan and cover with a lightly greased piece of plastic. Allow the dough to sit for at least 20 minutes (and up to one hour) while the oil heats up.
Once your oil reads 360-370°F on a Candy Thermometer you are ready to fry. Use a slotted spoon or Basket Strainer to flip the doughnuts over after about 2 minutes and then to take them out of the oil once they are golden brown on both sides. This works best with two people – have one person shape the dough, and the other to manage the submerging and turning. Try to keep the oil temperature as consistent as possible. Lay them out on paper towel to allow some of the oil to drain off. Let the zeppole sit for a few minutes, then lightly dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm.
Note: Red Star Yeast provided yeast samples for recipe testing, and sponsors BreadIn5’s website and other promotional activities.This website is reader-supported; BreadIn5, LLC earns affiliate commissions when buying products through links on this website.