About this recipe:Father's day in Italy is celebrated on March 19th, on Saint Joseph's day. For the occasion, all over the country all pastry shops get filled with bignè or zeppole, fritters filled with lemon pastry cream. In this detailed recipe are also some tips to bake them, if you don't like the idea of deep frying.
For the pastry cream
peel of 1/2 lemon
4 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
For the bignè
1 pinch salt
200g plain flour
20g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
4 eggs, lightly beaten
vegetable oil for deep frying
vanilla flavored icing sugar, as needed
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Heat the milk in a saucepan with the lemon zest. Before it gets to the boil, remove from heat.
With an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks with sugar and cornflour, until you reach a pale and thick mixture.
Remove the lemon peel from the milk and pour it into the egg mixture. Stir with a whisk to prevent lumps.
Bring everything back to the saucepan and back on the hob. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring continuously with a whisk until the mixture thickens to a custard, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour the custard into a large dish so it spreads evenly. Cover with cling film and set aside to cool completely.
Make the bignè
In a medium saucepan over a low heat combine the water, butter and salt. When the butter is completely melted, remove from the hob. Add all the flour in one single batch and stir well.
Return to a low heat and keep stirring until the mixture comes together in a ball. Cook a few minutes until the flour gets a bit toasted and the dough starts separating from the bottom and the sides of the saucepan. Add sugar and lemon zest, stir well and remove from heat. Let cool for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Add to the mixture 2 egg yolks and 4 whole eggs a little at the time stirring until they are perfectly incorporated.
Once you reach a smooth, silky and firm dough, cover with a cloth and let stand for 30 minutes. If it's too sticky, transfer to a metal bowl and let it stand.
Place the oil in a heavy bottomed deep saucepan over a medium heat. Once hot enough (test dipping a wooden spoon in the oil - if it gets surrounded by little bubbles, the temperature is right) add to the oil small walnuts size pieces of dough. Gently shake the saucepan so they won't stick and are able to float in the oil.
When the fried balls start puffing up, then bring up a the heat a little and cook until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Deep fry a few balls at the time or the oil temperature will drop and the fritters will soak too much oil. Always start frying with lower heat and then bring it up. Proceed the same way up to finish all the dough.
If you prefer bake the dough
Preheat the oven to 200 C / Gas 6.
At step 8, add 6 whole eggs instead 4 eggs and 2 yolks, so you'll reach a softer and silkier dough.
Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 8 to 10mm star tip.
Line a baking tray with baking parchment and then pipe a small ball of dough, about the size of a walnut, spacing them about 8cm apart.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until the bignè are puffed and golden. Turn off the oven and let the bignè cool inside for 10 minutes with the oven door ajar. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Fill the bignè
Spoon the pastry cream into a piping bag and gently fill the bignè, either deep dried or baked. Sprinkle with vanilla flavoured icing sugar (or regular icing sugar) and serve.
Not traditional but as tasty: try to fill the bignè with hazelnut custard, ganache or simple whipped cream.