On March 17th we all celebrate being Irish, but March 19th, Italians celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, kind of an Italian father’s day. As children we didn’t know much about St. Joseph, but all of us knew we would soon enjoy delectable St. Joseph’s Day cream puffs called “sfingi.” Although most Italians make fried sfingi, our family recipe was a traditional cream puff baked in the oven until puffed and golden.
Cream puffs are easy to make, but they are definitely temperamental. I always have to fool around with the temperature to make sure they are done enough. Aren’t you glad I am being so honest? Do not let this deter you. Even a slightly fallen homemade cream puff filled with Italian pastry cream is food for the gods.
First I make the Italian pastry cream called pasticciera cream. It is a simple vanilla custard stirred over a slow flame until it coats a spoon and then thickens. It is then chilled, giving me time to make the cream puffs. Both can be made ahead and put together just before serving.
3 egg yolks
2 cups milk
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
Place sugar, egg yolks, flour, lemon rind and vanilla in a heavy 2 qt saucepan and whisk together mixing well.another saucepan, scald the milk and slowly whisk milk into the egg yolk flour mixture. Turn the heat on low and continue stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon until custard comes to a low boil. Cook 4 minutes longer, stirring constantly until custard becomes smooth and thickens.
Remove from the burner and stir in the butter. Mix well. Pour into a bowl and let cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on the top of the custard. Cover with plastic wrap placed right on top of custard and then place wrap over top of bowl. Refrigerate until ready to fill your cream puffs.
Cream puff recipe:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup warm water
1 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
1/2 tsp grated orange rind
Combine butter, salt and water in a 2 qt saucepan and bring to a boil. Add flour all at one time and mix well with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the side of the pan. Add the eggs one at a time until mixture becomes a smooth paste. Add sugar, orange and lemon peel and mix thoroughly.
Drop by tablespoons on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper leaving a 3 inch space between them. Bake in a hot oven 400 degrees for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 325 and bake 30 minutes or until golden brown and firm and crusty to the touch. Remove from oven and make a 1 inch slit in the side of each puff. Return puffs to the hot turned off oven and leave its door ajar for 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack. When ready to fill, slit each puff and fill with custard. Dust tops of puffs with powdered sugar and serve.