Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, the couple behind New York’s acclaimed Donangie restaurant, welcome every Christmas Eve with a classic Italian feast of the seven fishes. Though the meal may focus on seafood, the dessert can be simple and sweet, such as these delicious honey zeppole from their Italian American cookbook. They write:
While honey-soaked zeppole are a Rito family tradition around the holidays, using fried bread dough from the family bakery, the Tacinelli family makes honey struffoli, which are tiny little balls of fried dough served with honey and sprinkles. This is a marriage of the two, using robiolina or cream cheese, which adds moisture to the dough without weighing it down, and a welcome touch of savoriness to balance the honey. The pistachios are a nod to Italy’s Greek neighbors, whose influences are seen in Sicilian cuisine. The syrup and batter can be made in advance, though these zeppole, like most doughnuts, are at their best when fried to order.
- 16 ounces robiolina cheese or whipped cream cheese
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup honey
- 2 cinnamon sticks or ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Neutral oil, such as vegetable, for deep frying (about 5 cups)
- ½ cup chopped pistachios (optional)
Make the batter: In a stand mixer with the paddle, mix the robiolina, vanilla paste, salt, sugar, and eggs on medium-high speed until homogeneous, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly to ensure that all ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Make the honey syrup: In a small pot, bring the honey, cinnamon, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons water. Set aside to cool slightly. Remove the cinnamon sticks before using.
To finish: Pour 3 to 4 inches oil into a large heavy bottomed pot and heat to 340°F. With a small spring-release ice cream scoop, carefully scoop zeppole batter into the hot oil. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, use two large spoons, and gently roll the batter between them to form a ball before dropping them into the oil. Fry only as many zeppole as will float freely in the oil at a time, flipping to ensure they cook evenly, until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes (you will likely cook 4 to 5 batches, depending on the size of your pot).
Remove the zeppole from the oil with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. Toss the zeppole with about one-quarter of the honey syrup and set aside on a serving platter. Repeat the frying and tossing with a proportionate amount of honey syrup until all the batter and honey syrup are used. If desired, sprinkle with pistachios.
Serve immediately. Zeppole are best fried and eaten day-of. Uncooked batter keeps, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. Serves 4 – 6.
Reprinted with permission from Italian American by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli. Copyright © 2021. Photographs by Christopher Testani. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.