March 19th is St. Joseph’s Day. It is also Father’s Day in many Catholic countries (Italy included) as St. Jospeh was Jesus’ father and it is considered a symbol of fatherhood. It is also a very important day in Sicily and it is widely celebrated as St. Jospeh is one of the island’s patron saints. Today I am going to share with you the recipe for a very special sweet that is traditionally eaten in Sicily on this very day: Sfinciuni di San Giuseppe (“St. Joseph’s Sfinciuni”). It is a deep fried doughnut, topped with a delicious sweet ricotta and chocolate pastry cream, dusted with icing sugar and decorated with candied cherries, orange peel and crushed pistachios. They are sublime! Fluffy and airy! Also, the name sfinci or sfincia (sfinciuni simply means that they are big sfinci) derives from the Arab إسفنج (isfanǧ) which means “sponge”, probably because the inside of the fried pastry looks “spongy”. They are my grandfather’s favourite sweet and I dedicate this recipe to him! <3 Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers who celebrate it today and especially to mine <3! They are this week’s recipe for my Regional Italian dishes series! Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from “Cucina trapanese e delle isole”, by Giacomo Pilati and Alba Allotta, ed. Franco Muzzio 2004.
Ingredients (makes 4 pastries):
100 gms – 3.5 oz. flour
125 ml water
13 gms – 0.5 oz. lard
4 gms – 1 heaped tsp baking powder
2 or 3 eggs
400 gms – 14 oz. ricotta
55 gms – 2 oz. chocolate chips
130 gms – 4.5 oz. + 1 tsp sugar
4 candied cherries
1 tbsp pistachios, crushed
Candied orange peels
Vegetable oil for deep frying (I used sunflower oil)
Put the water, 1 tsp of sugar and lard in a pot and bring to a boil (1). When boiling, pour in the flour. Make sure to whisk continuously and very well so that you do not get any lumps. NOTE: if you still get lumps, you can always use a hand mixer to dissolve them. Cook on a low fire for a few minutes, stirring continuously, until the dough detaches from the pot and comes together. Then remove from the fire and let it cool down (2). Transfer the mixture into the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment. Put the mixer on and add the eggs one by one (make sure the egg is completely absorbed by the batter before adding the next one). NOTE 1: you can also do this by just stirring with a wooden spoon. NOTE 2: the original recipe called for 2 eggs, but I ended up using 3… probably my eggs were smaller, so keep an eye on the batter after each egg has been incorporated. In the end you need to obtain a thick and elastic batter, like the tortelli or choux batter. At the end, add the baking powder. Mix well (3).
Cover the batter and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes.
Deep fry the sfinciuni by dropping spoonfuls of batter in the warm vegetable oil. NOTE: the temperature of the oil is very important. It should remain constant at 170ºC – 340ºF. If the temperature is higher, the sfinciuni will brown too quickly and will remain raw inside, if the temperature is lower, the sfinciuni will get soggy and oily. I used a candy thermometer to measure the oil temperature and they came out perfect: soft and fluffy. Keep in mind that they will take about 6 to 8 minutes to cook and the sfinciuni will puff twice: at the beginning and then again towards the end.
When ready, put them on a plate covered with kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil and let them cool down.
In the meantime, prepare the sweet ricotta cream. Put the ricotta and sugar in a bowl and mix it for a minute with a hand mixer. Add the chocolate chips, stir and keep it aside.
When the sfinciuni have cooled down, spread a generous amount of ricotta cream on the top and dust with icing sugar.
Decorate with candied cherries, crushed pistachios and orange peels.
Enjoy… and Happy Father’s Day to whoever celebrates it today!