Friday, March 18, 2016

Saint Joseph's Cakes {Nana's Recipe}

A few years ago my mom sent my sister and I a message asking us what recipes we'd really love to have from when we were kids that she and our grandmother had made for us.  We sent back a whole list of recipes, things that we rarely make ourselves and some that have become staples, that were the day to day must haves from our childhoods.  There were pasta and bread recipe requests as well as the cakes and cookies that were the highlights of family meals and celebrations.  Clearly, Mom had a plan to do something with this list of favorites.  But I think life got in the way and she was never able to do what she had hoped to.

Fast forward a year and I was growing weary of asking Mom for the same recipes over and over again (Why did I not write that down?  Where did that one go in the latest move?).  Plus, I was pregnant with my third baby and eager to get family recipes all in one place so that I could pass them on to my children.  So I made a determined effort to get all of the important baking recipes from my Mom and she and I collaborated in putting together a collection of recipes and stories in one book.  When we made our list of recipes to include, there were some that were absolutely non-negotiable.  Mostly these were the recipes from my Nana that came from Italy and would be completely lost of we didn't make the effort to write them down now.  This "cake" was one of them.

Nana made these cakes every year for St. Joseph's Day, a holiday that is celebrated in her Italian home region on March 19 every year.  They were one of my absolute favorites growing up- a sort of doughnut/French cruller stuffed full with sweet ricotta and chocolate chips.  It was one of the first that I made on my own for my college roommates and even for my students every year when I was teaching.  Now my own children love them and ask for them from time to time.  There was no way that I was going to leave this treat out of our collection.  I did a bit of streamlining of the ricotta filling recipe, but other than that this recipe is all Nana.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saint Joseph's Cakes
Makes at least one dozen 3 inch cakes.
For the printable recipe, click here.

These pretty little cakes are very much like a fried cream puff.  Keeping that in mind, they don't do too well after about a day.  So plan to eat them or share them all the day they are made.  Don't fill them until you are ready to serve or they will become too soggy.  The filling is the same as you would use to fill a cannoli so any leftover can be used to fill bought cannoli shells or even baked cream puffs (or if you are like me, straight off the spoon standing in front of the fridge).

½ cup neutral-flavored oil                                   
1 cup water                     
1 cup pastry (or all-purpose) flour
1 tbs sugar    
4 large eggs                                           
½ tsp each grated lemon and orange rind

Also: Neutral-flavored oil for frying
Chocolate Chip Ricotta Cream (recipe follows)
Powdered sugar for dusting the tops

 Cut several squares of parchment paper into 4 inch squares.

Combine oil, salt, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add flour all at once and mix well with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the side of pan. Remove from the stove and let it cool off a little.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add sugar, grated peels and mix well again.

Heat oil in a large pan that’s about 4 or 5 inches deep.  Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with the mixture. On each square of parchment paper, pipe out a 3” circle of dough. When the oil starts to shimmer on the surface drop the parchment with the dough circles into the oil. The paper will come off in a few seconds and you can remove it. Fry until golden brown, flip, and fry until the other side is golden. Let cool completely.

Slice in half and fill with chocolate chip ricotta cream.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Chocolate Chip Ricotta Cream
2 3/4 cup ricotta
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1/2 tsp fresh orange juice

Line a fine mesh sieve with a layer of cheesecloth and place over a bowl.  Put the ricotta into the sieve and place the whole thing into the refrigerator to drain overnight (covered with plastic wrap).

In a large bowl, whip the drained ricotta and powdered sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula until fluffy.  Beat in the chocolate chips, vanilla, orange zest and juice.  Refrigerate, covered, at least one hour or until ready to use.

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