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Bigne di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph Fritters)
Bigne di San Giuseppe (Fried dough balls, without yeast, St. Joseph fritters, San Giuseppe fritters)
Originated from: Rome, Lazio, Italy
Occasion: Feast Day of St. Joseph/San Giuseppe (March 19th)
Contributed by: Mary Melfi

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1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cup flour
3 small eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon (or more depending on one's preference)
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)

Vegetable oil for frying*

Vanilla-flavored sugar for dusting or regular table sugar for dipping

* Prior to World War II olive oil was used for deep frying in Italy, but nowadays most North Americans of Italian origin use all-purpose vegetable oil; however, most cooks, Italian or otherwise, agree that canola oil or peanut oil is best for frying as these oils don't leave an aftertaste


Add water and butter to a pan. Bring to boil.

Reduce heat.

Add flour all at once, stirring constantly until the mixture forms into a ball and does not stick to the pan.

Remove pan from heat and let the dough cool.

When the dough is cooled (Takes about 1/2 an hour), add one egg at a time, incorporating the eggs into the dough.

Add salt, sugar and lemon zest.

Shape into a ball and place the dough in a container. Cover the container with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for a few hours (or possibly over-night).

After the dough has rested, heat up the vegetable oil.

Take small pieces of dough (about an inch) and shape the dough pieces so that they have a hollow center (e.g. the dough can be shaped round one's little finger).

Fry the "bigne" until they are golden brown.

Serve warm (or at room temperature), adding a bowl of confectioner's sugar on the side so guests can dip their "bigne" in it, or sprinkle the "bigne" with vanilla-flavored sugar.


Please note that this recipe is the old-style way of doing "bigne di San Giuseppe." Nowadays most recipes that go by this name are actually cream puffs filled with ricotta or custard. For the modern take of "bigne di San Giuseppe" see the category, "Pastries." This "bigne di San Giuseppe" recipe in "Fritters" was adapted from Alexander Lenard's cookbook, "The Fine Art of Roman Cooking," which was published first in German and then in Italian in the early 1960s and is now out of print. The author, a German chef, who investigated Roman cookery in the late 1950s, indicates that these "bigne" or fritters were routinely sold on the streets of Rome by outdoor vendors. On the Feast Day of St. Joseph (March 19th) the fritters were sprinkled with vanilla sugar, but on every other day of the year the hollow centers were filled with jam. In his cookbook Alexander Lenard insists that if one follows his recipe the cherry-sized pieces of dough that one fries quadruple in size while they are cooking. I did not find this to be so. Mine did not quadruple in size, nor did they double in size. They stayed exactly as I had made them. Nor did the dough form bubbles as he suggested it would. And nor was I able to make 60 fritters from following his recipe. Other recipes for similar fritters [Sometimes called "Sfinge di San Giuseppe" contain yeast], so it is possible the author, Alexander Lenard, forgot to add it to the list of ingredients??? Also, the author did not mention how one is supposed to shape these fritters so that they will have a hollow center (I wrapped each piece of dough to the bottom of my little finger, and that produced the desired shape for the fritter, I believe). That said, the taste of these lemon-flavored bite-sized fritters is quite good and they're easy to do -- much easier in fact than any other fritter served on the Feast Day of Saint Joseph. So this is a great recipe to do for La Festa di San Giuseppe if one is into that kind of thing. However, please note that this recipe in other parts of Southern Italy may be called "sfinge de San Giuseppe" or even "zeppole di San Giuseppe." If there is one thing for sure about Italian cooking it's that you can't go by a recipe's name. Recipes that have the same name may vary, and sometimes recipes that have different names, don't vary at all. So beware. Note: For a similar recipe that is a touch easier to do check out "Tarallucci di Natale" in "Taralli and Rolls." Photo: Mary Melfi.

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