Doughnut Cake with sour cherries
Italian cake

Doughnut Cake With Sour Cherries

In the south of Italy, zeppole are made for Carnival or Saint Joseph’s Day (March 19). Each region has its own version, but the most decadent are from Naples, where they’re fried or baked and then topped with crème pâtissière (custard) and sour cherries. In Sicily, the Sfinci di San Giuseppe are served with a mixture of ricotta, candied fruit and chocolate.

Doughnut Cake with sour cherries

40 minutes preparation time
55 minutes cooking time
Makes 10–12 zeppole
1 quantity crème pâtissière

For the choux pastry

  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 80 g (2¾ oz) butter
  • 130 g (4¾ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 4 eggs, lightly whisked
  • a few spoonfuls of amarene (sour cherries) in syrup


Make the crème pâtissière (custard) as per the recipe then cover closely with plastic wrap to prevent a rubbery skin from forming then refrigerate until needed. For the cabbage pastry, heat 180 ml (6 fl oz) of water and the sugar in a saucepan over a low heat. Add the salt and the butter in pieces, and stir from time to time. When the water comes to the boil, remove from the heat and add the sifted flour all at once, mixing it in quickly. Return the saucepan to a low heat and keep stirring vigorously for 10 minutes, or until the dough comes away from the sides.

Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and keep stirring with a wooden spoon or use an electric stand mixer to cool the dough and make it more pliable. Add the eggs a little at a time to the lukewarm mixture, still stirring by hand or using the mixer — don’t add more egg until the previous addition has been fully absorbed. In the end, the dough should be smooth, slightly sticky and form a ribbon when it falls.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a baking tray with baking paper. Using a piping (icing) bag fitted with a fluted 1.2 cm (½ inch) nozzle, fill the bag with the cabbage mixture and pipe 5 cm (2 inch) rings, letting the “tail” of the mixture fall back into the middle of the ring. Bake for about 40 minutes, lowering the temperature to 170°C (325°F) after 10 minutes. Let the zeppole cool, then top with crème pâtissière (custard) and cherries.

Fried zeppole

Make the choux pastry as indicated above but only use 40 g (1½ oz) butter. Heat some peanut oil in a frying pan to 180°C (350°F), or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown in 15 seconds.

Pipe each zeppola on a circle of baking paper and lower wth the paper into the hot oil — the zeppola will detach from the paper. Fry for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until golden.

Roll the zeppole while they’re still hot in 100 g (3½ oz) icing (confectioners’) sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or cool before topping with crème pâtissière (custard) and cherries.


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