I always enjoy talking to my Sicilian mom about food. After knowing her for, well, my whole life, I still discover little gems about her wonderful memories of cooking or special dishes or desserts she remembers from when she was a child. The other day she was talking to me about an Italian donut she ate as a child at a street fair outside of Boston. She said she’d watch the dough get fried in these big vats and that the women would then poke a whole in the dough with their fingers and fill it with a sweet ricotta cream. She remembered the name: Sfingi. I told her I would find out about it, get the recipe and then make it for her.
Well, I did find out about it and it turns out that Sfingi are indeed a Sicilian dessert prepared for the St. Joseph’s Day feast. There are a few places on the web to learn more about this celebration, but after doing a little bit of research, I’ll mention Sicilian Cooking Plus, since I believe they have a great explanation and definitely the best (and most authentic recipe). I know about the recipe part because I tried it a few times now and it’s just like the Italian dough I recall as a child at my grandma’s house! Now I just need to let my mom be the judge. I’ll let you know the verdict!
Sfingi Di San Guiseppe
Adapted from Sicilian Cooking Plus
Makes about 15
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups water
6 medium eggs
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 8 cups vegetable oil for frying the dough
Ricotta Cream Filling
note: I just used a little almond extract, the chocolate shavings and sugar. It’s up to you what you’d like to add when it comes to the candied fruit, orange zest, etc.
4 cups ricotta
½ cup granulated sugar (adjust to taste)
1 tablespoon semi-sweet chocolate shavings or chips
2 tablespoons of diced citron or assorted diced candied fruits
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of cinnamon
2 drops of vanilla
optional – Candied orange peels
optional – Candied cherries
optional – shaved chocolate
For the filling, ahead of time, and even the night before, combine the ricotta and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until combined. Blend in the other filling ingredients you’d like, and then refrigerate until ready to stuff. Note: depending on the type of ricotta, you may want to drain or strain before using to remove the excess moisture.
Sift flour into small bowl and set aside. In medium sauce pan, bring water, salt and butter to a boil. Remove from heat, add all the flour (at once) and mix thoroughly with wooden spoon. Once incorporated, transfer to mixing bowl and turn for a couple minutes to cool a bit. Now add the eggs – one at a time – making sure to mix thorougly after each egg. I used an electric mixer. Continue to mix until dough is smooth and resembles thick pancake batter. The dough will have a slightly lumpy appearance, but the end result is just perfect. Cover and let rest for about 30 minutes. While resting heat oil in medium saucepan or deep fryer to about 375 degrees F.
Note: Make sure the oil is not too hot, because you don’t want it to brown to quickly on the outside, or the inside will not cook properly.
Once the oil is ready, with two spoons, pick up about a tablespoon of the dough and with the back end of one of the spoons, gently push the dough off into the oil. Drop a few more donuts to the oil, making sure not to over crowd. Gently tap the tops of the donuts while they are frying, it helps them to expand (they triple in size!). Turn them over as they are cooking to make sure they brown evenly. This will take a few minutes at least. Dont leave them by themselves!
When they are nicely browned, after about 3-5 minutes, remove with slotted spoon and let drain on tray covered with paper towels. Repeat the frying and draining until the dough is used up.
When cool, poke a hole in the center with your finger and fill with a couple teaspoons of the ricotta, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and garnish with the candied fruit if you wish.
You can serve these plain with powdered sugar (without the cream) and they are just as wonderful! Enjoy these any time you want to wow your kids or your family with a quick and unique sweet! Oh, you can also stuff with your favorite cream filling as well, but then you’re kind of missing the whole Sicilian thing!