These zeppole are semi-dense, not-too-sweet fried Italian donuts. Delicious with powdered sugar and Nutella for dipping!
Every year when I was a kid, my mom used to make zeppole, fried Italian donuts, on Christmas morning. Hot, crispy, not too sweet, but sprinkled with powdered sugar, they were a special treat I looked forward to once a year.
Christmas was a nice unhurried morning – We’d make the zeppole, munch on them while opening gifts, then have a nice breakfast or lunch before digging into our Christmas stockings which we had almost forgotten about by the time we ate all that good food.
My mom used to make a yeasty dough, but over time I think she tried to simplify the recipe and make it easier, until one year she made them with Bisquick and they really just tasted like fried biscuits. Not the zeppole of my memories. Then I think she lost the recipe and we didn’t make them again.
It was one of my fondest Christmas traditions, though, so when I went to visit my grandmother a couple years ago at Thanksgiving I asked if she had the recipe. She whipped out a box of magazine clippings and typed index cards and I went through snapping photos on my phone of anything that looked interesting. I found one clipping titled zeppole, which had some odd ingredients like raisins or something that I didn’t recall from our old donuts, so I kept looking.
Jackpot! One card titled “Fried men” looked very promising, so I tried it out that Christmas with my then-fiance as we spent a quiet holiday at his apartment. I hadn’t made much with yeast before and was a little nervous, but they turned out delicious and were everything I had remembered!
So the tradition was reborn. I made them again for Mike and me last Christmas and this year I got to make them for all my in-laws, my husband’s parents and two brothers.
They’re medium density, and there’s just a little sugar in the dough for the yeast but they’re not really sweet donuts. I sprinkle them heavily with powdered sugar after they’re fried and they’re really delicious dipped in some warm melty Nutella. They’re actually quite good leftover too!
You don’t need a Fry Daddy or anything to make these – I just put a couple inches of oil in my electric wok (a dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan would be good too). Heat it up on medium high until it’s all ripply looking and a small piece of test dough starts sizzling with lots of bubbles immediately after dropping in the oil. Just flip them over after 3-5 minutes or when they’re nice and brown on the first side – you should be able to see some brown around the edges before you flip them.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do! Happy new year!
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 tbsp shortening
- 2 packets RapidRise yeast
- 4 cups flour
- vegetable oil for frying
- powdered sugar for dusting
- Heat milk, sugar, salt, and shortening in a saucepan until melted.
- Transfer to bowl and cool to warm (too hot will kill the yeast)
- Add 2 packets RapidRise yeast and stir.
- Sift in 4 cups of flour, stirring to combine between each cup or two. Mix until smooth.
- Place dough in greased bowl (I removed the dough from the bowl, greased it, and added it back to reduce dishes!). Cover with damp cloth or damp paper towel and let rise until double, about 30 minutes.
- Heat a couple inches of oil in a heavy bottomed pan until rippling. Oil is ready when a small piece of test dough sizzles and bubbles rapidly immediately upon dropping into the oil.
- Pinch off irregular pieces of dough, handling gently (don't squish all the air out!) and drop into the hot oil. Fry for 3-5 minutes on each side or until brown and crispy on both sides. When dough rises to the surface and you see brown around the edges, flip donuts over with tongs. They should be nice and brown on the first side - if not, give them a couple more minutes before flipping.
- Remove donuts and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Dust liberally with powdered sugar. Serve with Nutella for dipping, if desired.