Those of you who have been following my columns these past 6 years, may have noticed by the disproportionate number of dessert articles in the magazine, that I have an insatiable sweet tooth.  It should come as no surprise then that I’ll be capping off My Year Of Italy with—well—something sweet.  Sfinge, also known as Zeppole, are Italian fried pastries similar to doughnuts, fritters or beignets.   Popular year round in Sicliy and throughout most of Italy, sfinge are traditionally consumed during the “Festa di San Giuseppe” (St. Josesph’s Day) on March 19.

Crisp on the outside, soft and airy on the inside, sfinge melt in your mouth and, are best served warm or within a few hours of making them. Serve as they are with just a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar, or fill them with a sweet ricotta cream.

These beautiful and delicious Italian pastries are the perfect festive dessert to serve on Christmas or on Hanukkah when it is customary to eat fried food.

Buon Appetito and Happy Holidays!

Sfinge (Italian Doughnuts Filled with Ricotta)


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ tablespoon baking powder
  • canola oil
  • confectioner’s sugar


  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese (preferably placed in a cheesecloth to allow excess liquid to drain overnight)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • zest of ½ orange (optional)

Place water, sugar, salt and butter into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the flour all at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon.  Place the batter over medium heat and keep stirring until the batter pulls away from the sides of the pan.  Allow to cool briefly, then add the baking powder and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions so that the eggs are well incorporated.  Cover the batter with a cloth and allow it to rest for ½ hour.

When ready to make the sfinge, pour enough canola oil to cover by at least 2 inches the bottom of a heavy gauge large saucepan.  Using a candy thermometer to test the temperature, heat the oil to 350 degrees. Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil—making sure not to crowd the sfinge.  Fry the sfinge for 6 to 7 minutes or until golden brown and puffed on all sides.  Remove from the oil and place on paper towels to drain.

Allow the sfinge to cool briefly.  You can serve the sfinge as they are with just a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar, or, if desired, fill the sfinge with the ricotta filling.

To make the ricotta filling, place the ricotta in a mixing bowl along with the sugar, the vanilla and optional orange zest.  Beat well until smooth, then fold in the chocolate chips.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To fill the sfinge with the ricotta filling: Place the ricotta cream into a pastry bag fitted with a ¼ round tip. Press gently into the side of the sfinge  and pipe the ricotta cream into the center which will be hollow.

These are best when eaten warm or within a few hours of making them.

Makes 16 to 20 sfinge.

December 2016