Happy St. Joseph’s Day! St. Joseph’s Day is a little-known holiday in America. Many cultures celebrate it in honor of St. Joseph (San Giuseppe), the husband of the Blessed Mother and the patron saint of workers and pastry chefs. It is probably best-known in America in the Italian-American community. Some places, like New Orleans, have parades. In New York, it takes a back seat to St. Patrick’s Day as it comes so soon after, on March 19. St. Patty’s Day is more fun, full of drinking and song. St. Joseph’s Day, a typical Italian holiday, is about the food. Befitting a day celebrating pastry chefs, there are two pastries that are popular on this day. One is zeppole, which are not the typical fried dough balls people may know from street fairs. Known as zeppole di San Giuseppe, this Neapolitan pastry is a choux that sandwiches a custard cream, often with a cherry on top. The other pastry, known as sfinge from Sicily, are also made from a choux pastry of a more rounded shape and filled with a ricotta filling. Though my background is Neapolitan, I tend to lean toward the sfinge. I’ve tried many of these pastries in the NYC area, and it’s hard to find a good one in Manhattan. Many bakeries sell them, but there are so few Italians left in the city that they are usually stale from lack of turnover. If you go to the Italian neighborhoods in the boroughs, you will have better luck. My favorites are at Monteleone’s in Jersey City, which is a Neapolitan bakery.
Below are the sfinge on the left and zeppole on the right from Villabate Bakery in Brooklyn, a Sicilian bakery. On St. Joseph’s Day, there is a line around the block to get in here.