Pippa Mattei’s tried-and-tested Zeppoli

The feast of St Joseph the worker, on 19 March is celebrated with zeppoli, deep fried dough sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon 

Zeppoli. Photo by Kurt Arrigo
Zeppoli. Photo by Kurt Arrigo

Zeppoli, or zeppole as they are known in Italy are made throughout southern Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Malta and Greece. The legend behind these sweet treats is a little bit murky and more than one story can be found to explain why we eat zeppoli on the feast of St Joseph.

One version of the story is that St Joseph began to sell these scraps of deep fried leftover dough after fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents, where he found himself without employment. Another story tells of how Mary had no money to feed her family and was told by an angel to go to Joseph’s workshop and ask for the chips that had fallen on the floor. She takes the chips to fry them and they turn into these wonderful deep fried doughy treats.

Whatever the legend, Pippa Mattei’s perfected recipe will leave your friends and family coming back to the kitchen for more, so make sure you make extra.

Pippa Mattei's Zeppoli

Makes 12 to 14


  • 200ml water
  • 75g butter
  • 125 g plain flour (sifted onto a square of greaseproof paper)
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 eggs - beaten
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • For the Filling:
  • 500g ricotta
  • 50g candied peel or glace cherries
  • 2 tbsp grated black chocolate
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 100g hazelnuts or almonds – roasted then chopped, half for the filling, and half to top the zeppoli

Also to top the puffs:

  • Maltese honey and a pinch of cinnamon
  • Also you will need
  • Some oil for deep frying


  1. Place water and butter in a pan over low heat until butter is melted.
  2. Bring to the boil (this is important) and then add your sifted flour and salt, stir until mixture forms a ball and leaves the side of the pan. Remove from heat immediately and cool slightly.
  3. Place mixture into bowl of electric mixer, add the grated rind of an orange and a lemon, and turn on to low speed. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition making sure the dough is well mixed. The mixture should be very thick, smooth and glossy.
  4. Heat oil in a pan for deep frying. When very hot, add tablespoons of the choux pastry and cook till they are all ‘puffed up’ and begin to ‘split’, and rise to the surface. (Cook about four at a time). Drain well on kitchen paper and when cool split three quarters of the way through.
  5. To make the filling, mix the ricotta with the chopped candied peel, or chopped glace cherries, grated chocolate and the 50g chopped roasted nuts.
  6. Place large spoonfuls of this mixture into each puff and when all done, drizzle some Maltese honey on the tops and sprinkle a little amount of cinnamon and the other half of your roasted chopped nuts.
  7. Serve at once.

Find more recipes in Pippa Mattei’s books ’25 Years in a Maltese Kitchen’ and the award winning book Pippa’s Festa’.

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