Sfingi, Cannoli, and Zeppole’s are traditional Italian pastry served each March 19 for St Joseph’s Day. Many Italian homes, churches, and community centers celebrate St. Joseph’s Day with a wonderful tradition of setting out food for the homeless and hungry. Legend tells of a great famine that struck Sicily, and the villagers prayed to St Joseph for help. Their prayers were answered and they celebrated with a thanksgiving feast in his honor. The spirit of St. Joseph’s Day is about giving and sharing.
Nothing reminds me more of my Grandma Ann than her donut-style Sfingi – fried pieces of bread dough rolled in sugar. We would come home from school and find her in the kitchen making these snacks for us. The smell of yeasty bread frying hit the minute we walked in the door. She would then put the hot bread dough balls in a big brown paper bag loaded with sugar and would shake it until fully coated. That is still one of the best sounds in the world to me. Of course, Grandma always made the bread dough fresh. She used most of it for her everyday Italian bread recipe, and would save some of the dough to fry up for us kids.
The donut-style Sfingi are also a speciality of the Sisters of St. Charles and a special treat when they serve them at the famous Italian Festival in Melrose Park, Illinois.
If you research Sfingi (also called Spingi), you will find there are three types; 1) a pate choux-type pastry that is fried or baked (also called Zeppole. See my version of tis recipe here) 2) a thick pancake-like batter that is fried using a special rosette shape iron and 3) a bread dough donut-style that is fried and rolled in sugar. No three Italians will agree on which version is correct or if they are called Zeppole or Sfingi. They are all delicious. My Mother’s cookbook refers to Sfingi as the pancake batter style fried with a special rosette iron. They were loaded with powdered sugar and melted in your mouth.
This Sfingi recipe is a classic donut-style bread dough sweetened with sugar and the addition of vanilla extract. You can also use freshly prepared store-bought pizza or bread dough for a quick and easy way to enjoy Sfingi. Get the paper bag at the grocery store so you can do the Sfingi Shake!
After the dough has risen, I shaped it into little balls the size of limes.
They are deep fried in an electric deep fryer appliance. I prefer that so that I can more easily control the temperature for stable and safe frying. Roll in cinnamon sugar while they are still warm. They are best served immediately! They will go quick.
Sfingi di San Giuseppe
- 1 cup sugar + ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 2 tablespoons dry active yeast
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups warm water 110 -113 degrees
- Canola oil for frying
- Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or cup with a pouring lip, add yeast and ¼ cup sugar to warm water and stir to dissolve. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Let the yeast bloom for 5 minutes.
- In a stand mixer, pour the yeast mixture into the mixer bowl. Using the whisk attachment, gradually add the flour mixture until a shaggy dough is formed. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 - 7 minutes until a smooth ball is formed. Dough should be slightly sticky and elastic. Put the dough into a oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double in size; about 1 ½ hours. Punch down, cover and let it rise again for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a floured board. Divide into 4 pieces. Working with one piece at a time, pinch or cut small pieces about the size of a lime. With floured hands, roll into balls. Place on parchment paper dusted with flour. Repeat with the rest of the dough. You should get about 24 balls.
- Combine the 1 cup sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Set aside.
- To fy, heat oil to 350 degrees in a skillet on the stovetop deep enough to submerge the sfinge, or in a electric deep fryer (my preference) Carefully drop about 6 balls at a time in the hot oil. Fry about 3-5 minutes golden brown. If the balls don’t roll over on their own, you will have to flip them with a fork. Drain on paper towels.
- While still warm, roll the sfingi in cinnamon sugar.
- Enjoy right away. They are best eaten warm.