The delicious history and making of the sfinga
Just because these delicious fritters are traditionally associated with St Joseph’s feast doesn't mean you can't try your hands at making sfineg any other day
The zeppola, distantly related to the grease-and-air staple of countless street fairs, is a wobbly four-story structure of fried, swirled dough and vanilla custard, topped with sour-sweet amarena cherries. The sfinga is a lump of egg-based dough deep fried, split open, piled like a double-stuffed baked potato with ricotta cheese, sugar and chocolate chips (the same mixture that fills the cannoli) and often crowned with a slice of candied orange rind, a maraschino cherry and a splash of green crushed nuts.
Regional loyalties toward one or the other are fierce, but many in Sicily – and Malta too therefore – believe zeppole to be a sop to mainland Italians too timid to embrace the joys of ricotta. Zeppole can also be savoury, and consist of fried bread dough often filled with anchovy. In parts of Calabria, the anchovy or a sultana variety are consumed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Never heard of sfineg? You are missing out on something crazy delicious. These pastry fritters are sweet treats traditionally enjoyed on St Joseph’s Day, celebrated in the western church each year on 19 March and a common staple in southern Italy and Malta.
The gooey mess of simple dough, akin to pate choux with a rising agent, boiling water, salt and butter, and flour, thickens quickly on the heat. Eggs, one at a time, add richness to the dough. Maybe also some vanilla and whiskey. In the fryer, the dough takes on a life of its own, flipping themselves over and over again, until they’re just about done. You flip them once again, right before the end, and they’re done.
If done right the result is a pastry puff, hollow but crispy-skinned. Drained, they are finally dusted with powdered sugar, and upon cooling comes the sweetened ricotta with orange and lemon zest, lightened with whipped cream, and topped with honey and crushed almonds.
Busy Bee in Msida will have prepared and sold around 26,000 sfineg this week alone. The Friggieri family have been preparing this specialty for the feast of St Joseph for decades and – just like their cannoli – the sfineg have become a must-have for many Maltese.
Fancy trying your hand at the sfinga? We got you covered
Ingredients (Serves: 10 )
2 teaspoons fine caster sugar
1 pinch salt
125g plain flour
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
zest of 1 orange, finely chopped
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon marmalade oil for deep frying
600g ricotta cheese
100g icing sugar
3 teaspoons anisette liqueur
60g dark chocolate, finely chopped
80g chopped almonds
60g chopped candied peel honey as needed