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Making Catholic Memories: St. Joseph Cream Puffs

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When we first started having children and began discussing names, we always seemed to lean towards family names for the middle name. By the time our third came along, we began to focus on choosing saints names. It seems slightly embarrassing to admit it, but it wasn’t until we were expecting our fifth child that we finally thought to choose, Joseph. Why had it not occurred to us before? Shouldn’t it have been an obvious choice? But perhaps this is always the case with this humble, holy saint. He should be so obvious, but his important role is often hidden and even forgotten when we reflect on our story of salvation. Well, not this year and certainly not this month! With the entire year dedicated to this outstanding saint, we certainly aren’t going to miss celebrating St. Joseph on his feast day, March 19.

So often when we reflect on the story of Jesus, we immediately turn to his mother, Mary, but she was not alone in God’s plan to bring Christ into the world. God made sure to include Joseph. When Joseph considered quietly divorcing Mary, God sent an angel to assure Joseph that he was part of His plan, too. And who was Joseph? Not a king, or nobleman. Not a man of wealth or stature. He was a carpenter. A simple, poor, everyday, hard-working man – but a faithful man who loved and honored God. And just like Mary, Joseph said yes! He awoke from his dream and took Mary into his home and became the foster father to the Son of God. Through many trials he provided for their needs, protected them from harm and helped to prepare Jesus for His mission. By imitating his humble example, and living a life of love and faithfulness, we too can lead our families in a life of holiness, just as Joseph did.

It is a tradition in Italy to honor this humble saint with a special dessert called Zeppole di San Giuseppe (or St. Joseph Cream Puffs). They start with choux pastry, then they’re filled with a delicious vanilla pastry cream, and topped with a red cherry and powdered sugar. While they look like some sort of gourmet delicacy, these delicious morsels are not nearly as hard to make as you might think! So, get out your aprons and have a little fun in your kitchen. Once they are complete, sit down with your family, say some special prayers to the Patron of the Universal Church and thank him for his own humble fiat that helped make possible our salvation!

Here is the recipe we use: Zeppole di San Giuseppe. Note: We always double the amount of pastry cream for the filling. We just can’t get enough of it!

For the Dough:
1 cup of Water
1 cup of All Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 cup of Unsalted Butter
4 Eggs at Room Temperature
For the pastry cream:
2-1/2 cups of Whole Milk
1/4 cup of Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup of All Purpose Flour
2 Tbsp of Cornstarch
1 Small Strip of Lemon Zest
4 Egg Yolks

Start by making the custard.

1) In a saucepan add the milk and lemon zest and bring to a simmer. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale (this takes a couple minutes) then whisk in the flour and cornstarch and when the milk is ready, remove the lemon zest and slowly stream in the milk into the egg yolk mixture and whisk until smooth.

2) Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook on medium-low heat until the mixture thickens, stir in the vanilla and then pass it through a sieve into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge to cool completely.

3) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

4) In a large saucepan, add the water, butter and salt and bring to a boil, add the flour and salt and cook stirring the whole time for about 3 minutes.

5) Add the dough to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a paddle attachment and let it mix for several minutes to cool the mixture a bit.

6) Add one egg and mix until incorporated and then continue to mix one egg at a time until you have a smooth mixture, allow to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes.

7) Place the dough in large piping bag fitted with a large round tip, then start piping out little nests about 2-1/2 inches wide and about 3 levels high (watch video for visual instructions) a few inches apart from each other.

8) Bake them for about 40 minutes or until deeply golden brown, allow to cool before filling the center with the pastry cream and top with a maraschino or amarena cherry.

This article appeared in the March 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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