Bigne di San Giuseppe

March 19, 2013 / Events
Rome, Italy

bigne1Yet another sign that spring will soon be here! Although this sign is neither a change in temperature nor return migrating birds or early blooming flowers. To the joy of all those with a sweet tooth, this sign can be eaten.

These are zeppole in other parts of Italy, where they are usually of made of denser dough and are occasionally prepared savory too. In Rome however they are called bigné di San Giuseppe, light puffy wee clouds of.. sheer gluttony that begin to appear in most pastry shops a few weeks before today, March 19th, the Saint’s day.

Step 1: deep-fry some sugar, butter and egg. Step 2: fill to the gills with pastry cream (butter, sugar, and egg). Then, because they’re light on sugar and still too low on calories, cover with powdered sugar before serving.

(For a real recipe for bigné di San Giuseppe, our sincerest thanks to our contributor and friend Rita… of carbonara fame.)

When you eat your first one during those few weeks that they’re available, it is hard not to have a “Why aren’t you made year-round!?” moment. Given their nutritional value (!?), it’s a good thing they aren’t, actually. By the time San Giuseppe actually rolls around you’ll have eaten so many (a bigné binge?) that 48 weeks of bigné-abstinence is the absolute minimum.

But what a treat! “Un altro bigné con il cappuccino?” says the barista with a devilish smile. (“Another bigné with your cappuccino?”) Oh well, it’ll be easy to work them off soon… spring’s coming, right?

(Once again, grazie Rita for sharing your recipe for bigné di San Giuseppe!)



by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

44 Responses to “Bigne di San Giuseppe”

  1. Yes, it’s that time…..these have made their appearance in my neighborhood in NY. Three varieties; traditional cassata cream, custard and chocolate custard. One of the most anticipated signs that Spring is approaching!

  2. Peggy Corrao

    What a joy to read! Divine gluttony, you can never stop at one. We have a friend that tops them with Amarene which is my favorite! She is from Sorrento, and both she and her mother are incredible Culinary

    • D. Bianchi

      If you eat them in the closet with the door closed they have no calories. Guilt free. And still delicious.

  3. Oh, I remember them well. the first time I had one, unfortunately it was the last day of making them for the year! I didn’t find that out until the next day when I went back for more, after a 20 minute bus ride, only to be terribly disappointed!

    have one for me.

  4. George Virgilio

    Want to make them?
    Maryann Esposito of Ciao Italia on PBS recently did her version of Zepoli and sfingi. Look it up on the ciaoitalia website.

  5. We have a local bakery that started this past Sat. to make the zeppole and of course I was there on Sunday to buy some. Custard for my husband and ricotta for me and every so often a chocolate custard one. I don’t even want to know how many calories in each, I enjoy them too much to care and it is so hard not to stop there every day to buy more so I try to wait until the weekend to do so and I figured out I have 8 more weekends to buy them before Easter when they no longer make them.

  6. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    It must be the curse of San Giuseppe and all those named for him, to eat them until we burst. It is also why they say Pugliesi are crazy,they have them most of the year

  7. Virginia C. Mars

    I will need to do a little research so that I can find them in the D.C. area. Any suggestions? They sound too delicious to miss.

  8. Rosalia

    My late Mother named Josephine would buy a huge box of sfingi di San Giuseppe on her name day and bring them to the Board of Elections where she worked so that her co-workers could celebrate with her.

  9. Evelyn Longobardo

    Here in New York they are called Sfingi di San Guiseppe , There are also Zeppole di San Guiseppe. Sfingi are those with cannoli cream (made from ricotta). and the zeppole are with custard cream. Both delicious.

    • Rosemary

      I grew up in Brooklyn and at the “Feast” in my grandfather’s neighborhood – late summer – we called them Sfingi too – but they were not filled with anything. Just the wonderful crispy, doughy, covered with powdered sugar kind. They would fry them in big drums of oil, scoop them out with a big strainer and toss them in the paper bags, then they would generously sprinkle the powdered sugar in the bag. Incredible!

  10. raffaele

    I remember these from the brooklyn church bizzar and just how so freaking delicious they were. Also, my nonna from S Italy refers to them as zeppole or bigne’, the term seems interchangeable…..well, whatever you call them, they’re just crazy good. I miss nyc for them specifically

  11. francesco costa

    a napoli si chiama “zeppola di san giuseppe” ed è un dolce di forma circolare, quasi monumentale (fritto oppure cotto al forno), sormontato da succose amarene e dal quale spuntano volute di morbida crema! ragazzi, è qualcosa di inebriante! più eccitante di una droga! lo aspetto pazientemente ogni anno per papparmene almeno due, accompagnandoli con un buon caffè! mentre lo mangi, la vita sembra decisamente più dolce!

  12. MMMMM….here in Chicago the Zeppole have appeared also in every Italian bakery. Also many St. Joseph tables offer them as well. I purchased some over the weekend at the Sicilian Bakery and they were heavenly….some filled with custard, cream,and canolli filling. I think I might have to buy one more! Bon Appetite!

  13. When I was living in Italy I discovered these wonderful treats. I only bought one to try. Next day I jumped on the bus and made the long trek to the pastry shop only to find that the day before was the last day for the year that they would be available. Enjoy them whil you can. Thanks again for your great notes and thank you Rita for the recipe!! Mille grazie

    • Rita Perrotta
      Rita Perrotta

      Thank you Sharon!
      And when you try the recipe please keep me posted on how they turn out.
      Buon appetito!

      • Pate Cardel

        Is it possible to translate the recipe from grams to ounces etc Thank you

        • Cara Pate Cardel;
          With an Italian gram scale, measuring cups from England and the States plus good ol’ Yankee ingenuity I’m 99.100% that these are the measurements:

          250 g. Flour= 8 oz.; a generous American cup
          250 g. Butter= 8 oz.; 1/2 pound
          250 ML Water= 1 American cup, 8 oz.
          1 Pinch salt= 1/8th teaspoon

          ~Gian B.

          • Rita Perrotta
            Rita Perrotta

            Thank you very much Gian and sorry if it took me a while…
            well, unfortunatlely I don’t know much about cups and oz, to be absolutely sure I used a unit converter and this is what it came out:

            250g flower=8,82oz (I guess you could do 9) -> 1 and 2/3 cups

            250g butter=8,82oz (I guess you could do 9) -> 1 abundat cup or a little bit more than 2 sticks

            250ml=8.45oz -> 1 abundant cup

            500ml=16,9oz -> 2 abundant cups or 1/2 US quart

            I am not sure if this helps at all…
            But it sounds like Gian’s conversion makes sense.
            Please let me know how they turn out!
            I wish you both a good day!

  14. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    Today was my fathers birthday,(surprise)his name as mine ‘Giuseppe’!Naturally these treats were special in our house. When in his town at time of feste di Giuseppe how fat we get with these wonderful treats.

  15. Colleen Simpson

    Oh yummy heaven! Just had our first bigne at our local bakery in Piegaro, Umbria: custard and ricotta! The bar/cafe is also serving them all week and I know we will not be able to resist stopping by every day….just have to put in some extra long walks afterwards.

  16. Maria Vallone

    Looking for my post but I don’t see it so I’ll repeat it one more time because my brother is named Joseph and also my dear father was. In fact every San Giuseppe,
    my Dad would bring home a dozen zeppole from Federal Hill in Providence, RI, and let us break our Lenten fast just for that one day. The pastries disappear shortly afterward but I always remember us so looking forward to 19 marzo with mouths watering…….and as a grown-up I still do! Buona Festa di San Giuseppe a tutti!!!! Grazie! Italian Notebook!

  17. My mom would always buy them by the dozen for me, my dad (Joe) and everyone else with St Joseph’s name varied. Cannoli and Custard are both so delish so I have to have both. I miss both my parents now but I keep her tradition and celebrate his feast day.
    I also made the 9 day St Joseph Novena every year. It’s sad that very few continue this. But I still have my novena booklet and use it at home.

  18. GB & Rita,
    Oh, my sweet tooth is jealous…still another reason to return to Rome and Italy!
    Buona giornata!

    • Rita Perrotta
      Rita Perrotta

      Dear Victoria,
      I agree, good reason to come to Rome, and when you do, I hope you’ll come and vist us here at Le 7 Fonti!
      Buona giornata a te.

  19. Me ne dia 6! For all my knowledge and exposure to things Italian as a high school teacher – and leader of 18 student groups to Italy over the years, the term BIGNE` is new to me! I was never lucky enough to be in/around Rome around la festa di San Giuseppe, which by the way, is my compleanno! I LOVE this site! So much more to learn about our beloved penisola, even after 39 years in the classroom. In South Philadelphia, and in the general area, si chiamano zeppole, so I learned something new today. Graze infinite.

  20. Sandra Spector

    Glad I read the recipe because when I first read “deep-fry some sugar, butter and egg.”, there is no mention of the flour!

  21. Sandra Spector

    oops, in the article. That’s what i meant. You had to check the recipe. Oh forget it. The idea is the same & tit all sounds yummy…with the four that is!! (HA!)

  22. With my Sicilian grandmother Saint Joseph was never San Giuseppe, in proper Sicilian he was Santu Pipineddu… I can only say wow to that, beautiful!!!

  23. Please, please PLEASE give quantities in measurements that Americans can understand! Grams and liters mean nothing to me, and I’d LOVE to try making these!


  24. mary o brugliera

    i can taste them now. in sicily, where the festa di san giuseppe is REALLY celebrated, these are known as sfingi di san giuseppe. cream puffs in their other countries……

    mary brugliera

  25. Dear Rita Perrotta;
    Your measurements are right-on!
    What proved true was when in culinary school my great teacher from Austria, Chef Kenneth Wolfe, told me that as time goes on recipe quantities stated in books only become suggestions and in time all measurements are done by eye and instinct, even with pastry. This proved true, and especially beneficial, when cooking for 300 people: perish the scales, weights and measurements!!!

  26. I’ve been the family baker for years and, although there are plenty of things that can be “eye-balled” for quantity, zeppole shells are not among them. They’re just too touchy: too much or too little of some ingredients can make for a culinary disaster! (I know this from sad experience.)
    I have a digital scale which can be switched from ounces to grams and measuring cups which are marked for both types of measure. These are a tremendous help.
    It should be noted that when the recipe says to bring ingredients to a boil, this means a “rolling boil,” which is one which cannot be stirred down, not just a simmering boil.
    Also, for all European pastries, use UNsalted butter.
    Bignè is a term linguistically related to the French term “beignet,” meaning a variety of fried dough pastry.

  27. Rita Perrotta
    Rita Perrotta

    Dear Teresa end Gian,
    I think you are both right and thurth is exactly in the middle.
    In fact, especially when we are talking about bignè, in which the dough has to have a specific elasticity, we need to check every time the moisture of the dough, since flour and sugar are influenced by the atmosphere’s umidity.
    There are times in which in the same amount of flour I have to put 5 eggs and a half and times I have to use 6.


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