Sfinci (or sfingi) is the Sicilian word for the Italian fried doughnut called zeppole (plural). Different regions of Italy also refer to it by different names, but we’ll keep it simple here to the two names that are most popular. This is my family’s recipe for this basic fried yeast doughnut. Have you ever been to the Feast of San Gennaro Festival in New York and tasted those delicious hot, fluffy fried dough balls covered with powdered sugar? That’s what I’m talking about. Zeppole most resemble beignets. These doughnuts are not to be mistaken for the cream filled pastries known as Sfinci di San Giuseppe or Zeppole di San Giuseppe, which are also fried pastries, but they are made with pate a choux (cream puff) base rather than a bread base. They are usually eaten on the feast day of Saint Joseph (Giuseppe). I know it can be confusing.
To make the matter even more confusing, zeppole can be made either sweet or savory. They can also contain a variety of additions to the batter, such as pumpkin, ricotta, potato, anchovies, raisins, and assorted spices, just to name a few ingredients. Zeppole are best when served warm and consumed immediately. After a few hours any that are leftover become hard and dense. To make them moist, I add buttermilk (optional), which is not a traditional ingredient, but it works. The addition of ricotta or potato also helps to keep them moist. My recipe for Sfinci di Ricotta is available on my blog site.
Zeppole are either dusted with powdered sugar, rolled in cinnamon sugar, or drizzled with honey. You can also split them in half and fill with a sweetened ricotta filling, which I have included the recipe for. However, it is optional.
Sfinci: Zeppole (Italian Fried Doughnuts)
Difficulty Rating: Easy
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
2 cups milk (or 1 cup milk plus 1 cup buttermilk), at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
Oil for frying (light olive, vegetable, safflower, or canola oils are suitable)
Powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting
Easy Ricotta Cream Filling (optional)
1-pound whole milk ricotta, drained
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Make the Dough: Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in large mixer bowl and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the water and sugar. Add the yeast and let sit for about 5 minutes until foamy.
In a medium bowl, combine the milk, egg yolk, and vanilla.
Add the milk mixture, yeast, and lemon zest (if using) to the flour. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for about 5 minutes. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until double, about 1 hour.
Fry the Doughnuts: Pour enough vegetable oil in a deep fryer or deep-frying pan to a depth of 3-inches. Heat oil to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Carefully drop a heaping tablespoonful of the batter into the hot oil. Fry several doughnuts at a time in batches, being careful not to overcrowd them. Turn several times while frying. Cook 6 to 7 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Cool slightly and dust with powdered sugar or roll in cinnamon sugar and serve immediately.
For the Optional Ricotta Filling: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Cut each zeppole in half vertically but not all the way through. Spoon in a small amount of filling and dust with powdered sugar.