It would seem to follow that around this time of year I might post a green1 food recipe. You might have noticed that I didn't - not in color, at least. I was too busy fixating on recreating a particular treat.
Italians celebrate March 19th - the Feast of St. Joseph. On St. Joseph's day, it is traditional to wear red, give food to the needy, and prepare an elaborate, 3-tiered Tavola di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's table).
According to legend, there was a severe drought in Sicily during the Middle Ages, which threatened to destroy the crops and start a famine. The Sicilians prayed to San Giuseppe, their patron saint, to bring rain, promising to honor him with a feast, if he answered their prayers. The rains did come, and the people kept their promise.
Because the holiday falls within the Lenten season, St. Joseph's tables contain only meatless dishes2. Fava beans were the crop that saved the Sicilians from starvation, and are featured prominently on the table. Other traditional foods include limes, wine, and sweets, breads and pastries3- particularly Zeppole.
Zeppole are deep-fried or baked (al forno) pastries, traditionally made from pâte à choux. They can be savory or sweet - the sweet ones are often filled with custard, jelly, or pastry cream.
When I was little, I loved zeppole - the crisp, barely sweet pastry filled with creamy, lemon-kissed custard and topped with a cherry were an exciting treat. I liked the savory ones too, but the sweet ones were a rare treat our sugar-prohibiting mother4 would allow us to enjoy.5
Of course, being incredibly egg-heavy, Zeppole are not something I have "enjoyed" in a very very long time.
Well, until now.
Admittedly, these are not an exact recreation of traditional zeppole. The traditional, egg-heavy pastry is difficult to replicate precisely without... well... eggs. But these are darn6 near close for being Vegan, gluten free, allergy friendly, and no refined sugars.
I initially tried to experiment by tweaking the traditional pâte à choux recipe. This ended in unmitigated failure. I feared the pastry aspect of the zeppole was about to become Panettone 2010 Revisited (saga mentioned here), or I guess more appropriately, Zeppole Saga 2012.
I saw the signs though, and I quickly abandoned the idea of any subsequent attempts at vegan, gluten free pâte à choux. I instead decided to start from scratch on my own blank drawing board.
I dare say, it was far more successful.
Zeppole al Forno
(makes 10-12 Zeppole)
For the pastry:
- 2/3 Cup (85g) Sorghum Flour
- 2 Tbsp (15g) Garbanzo Bean Flour
- 6 Tbsp (45g) Tapioca Flour
- 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
- 1 Tbsp (10g) Coconut Palm Sugar
- 3 Tbsp (45g) Earth Balance Coconut Spread
- 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 2 tsp Ground Flax or Chia
- 1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Milk (I used So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk)
- 1 tsp Vinegar
- 1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Milk (again, So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk)
- 1/4 Cup (40g) Coconut Palm Sugar
- 1 Tbsp (7g) Tapioca Flour
- 1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
- 1 tsp Organic Lemon Flavor or zest of one lemon
- Pinch of Sea Salt
- 2 Cans full-fat Coconut Milk chilled in the refrigerator overnight.
- 1 Tbsp Coconut Flour
- Whole dried unsweetened Bing Cherries - soaked for 2-3 hours - 1 per zeppola (you can also use glace cherries or Maraschinos, if you don't mind the added sugar)
Prepare the pastry creme:
In a saucepan, combine the non-dairy milk, coconut sugar, tapioca, vanilla, lemon and salt. Whisk well, to ensure the tapioca is fully dissolved and no lumps remain.
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens - approximately 5-8 minutes.
Remove from heat, and allow the mixture to cool almost completely, before setting in the refrigerator to chill. You want the mixture to be as cold as possible, before adding it to the coconut cream.
Remove the coconut milk cans from the fridge, and scoop out the solid cream, leaving the clear liquid behind. Add the solid coconut cream to a mixing bowl, then add the chilled tapioca mixture and the coconut flour.
Starting on the lowest setting of your hand mixer and working up, whip the ingredients together, until well blended and fluffy. This should only take a few minutes. Sometimes better results are achieved, when everything is cold; you may want to pop the bowl and the beaters into the freezer for a few minutes before whipping the cream together.
*The pastry creme can be made sugar free by subbing 30-40 drops of liquid stevia for the coconut sugar; skip the cooking step and omit the milk and tapioca.
Place the finished pastry creme in the fridge to chill a bit longer, while you...
Prepare the pastry:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set up a pastry/piping bag with a wide tip or cut the corner off of a quart-sized plastic bag. Set the items aside, within close reach.
Cream together the coconut palm sugar and buttery spread. Set aside, to help the sugar dissolve.
In a small bowl or glass combine the vanilla, flax (or chia), non-dairy milk and vinegar. Mix well, and continue to stir the mixture until it begins to thicken.
In a separate bowl, combine the flours and the baking soda. Whisk together so that they are evenly mixed. Add the butter-sugar mixture to the flour and blend well, using a fork or whisk, until it is evenly incorporated. The mixture should be somewhere between crumbly and sticky.
Add the liquid mixture, and mix until the batter is smooth and uniform.
Working quickly but mindfully, add the batter to the pastry bag and squeeze the batter into rings, approximately 3" in diameter. Spiral the batter on top of itself, to create a double layer ring. Make sure to space the rings at least 1" apart on the baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet on the center rack of the pre-heated oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 400F/200C, then reduce the heat to 375F/190C and continue to bake for 10 more minutes.
Turn off the heat, and allow the zeppole to remain in the oven as it, and they, cool - approximately 15-20 more minutes.
Remove the zeppole, and allow them to cool completely at room temperature. Carefully, slice the zeppole horizontally - the way you would slice a bagel - leaving a bit more thickness on the bottom layer.
Now you're ready to assemble the zeppole.
Grab that same (cleaned) piping bag -- or same plastic bag - let's be as earth-friendly as possible :-) -- and fill it with the chilled pastry creme. Pipe an even ring of creme onto the bottom half of a zeppola, and cover with the top half. Pipe an extra little dollop of creme into the center hole/divot, and top with a cherry - the soaked ones should be nice and plump and soft.
Repeat the above steps, until all of the zeppole are assembled.
Serve immediately, or refrigerate, until serving.
1. In all senses of the word.
2. Definitely right up my alley (or vicolo, if you will).
3. St. Joseph is also the patron saint of pastry chefs - I'm so not kidding - what doesn't this guy do?
4. For health reasons (she was "granola" back before natural foods were in vogue - SMART lady!), but probably also because I was a rather hyperactive child.
5. It was only once a year, after all.
6. Please, San Giuseppe, excuse my language.