Sfingi is a traditional Sicilian fried pastry which is served during the feast of San Giuseppe (St Joseph). The pastry is light and airy, even though it has been fried in oil and then rolled in sugar. These puffy pastry balls are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of espresso.
Sfingi are a St. Joseph’s Day tradition
Every year my mother coordinates a St. Joseph’s table at her church and makes about 300 sfingi for the event. 200 are served at the table and about 100 are reserved for all of the volunteers. Her sfingi are very popular! They are a thank you for all the work everyone does to help her with her devotion to the patron saint of Sicily.
What are Sfingi?
Sfingi are like light airy donuts and from town to town you will find them made slightly differently. The dough is basically the same dough you would use to make cream puffs. The main difference between the two is that cream puffs are baked and sfingi are fried. As the dough fries it the hot oil, the air bubbles in the dough expand and puff up creating a hollow center in the pastry.
Sfingi vary by region
Traditional Sicilian sfingi was simply served coated in honey or with granulated sugar. Eventually some pastry shops in Sicily started filling the sfingi with a ricotta filling. And still other versions are more savory and may be filled with potatoes. I have never tried either of these versions.
What is the difference between Sfingi and Zeppole?
In our family, we have always served sfingi rolled in sugar and enjoyed in it’s simplest form. There are some parts of southern Italy that refer to the sfingi as a zeppole. They are actually two different desserts. The difference is that zeppole are doughier and denser then a sfingi.
What you need
Many sfingi recipes that I have reviewed, use yeast in the dough and add different flavorings. My mother’s recipe doesn’t have any of that. To make these sfingi you only need a few ingredients; water, butter, flour and eggs.
When the dough is dropped into the hot oil, it begins to form air bubbles and as the bubbles expand, the dough puffs right up, so there is no need to add any yeast.
Make sure the oil is hot enough to fry the Sfingi
When my mother was teaching me to make sfingi, I asked her how hot the oil should be. She told me it needs to be “hot”! Apparently she does not go by a certain temperature. She dropped a small amount of dough into the oil and watched it as it started to bubble up. Then she said “okay now it’s ready”. So there you have it. The oil should be hot!
How to make Sfingi
Make the Dough
- Heat water and butter in a sauce pan.
- When the butter has melted add the flour and stir until the mixture forms a ball of dough.
- Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and let it cool down for about 10 minutes.
- When the dough is no longer hot, add eggs one at a time, and beat with a mixer until the egg is fully incorporated. Repeat this with the remaining eggs.
- The dough should be creamy and smooth.
Fry the donuts
- Fill another sauce pan with vegetable oil and heat over a medium flame.
- The oil should be hot enough to cook the sfingi all the way through without turning the dough too dark in color.
- Drop the dough into the oil in half tablespoon size dollops.
- Cook the sfingi for 8-10 minutes.
- Prepare a large bowl and line it with paper towels to receive the sfingi coming out of the oil.
- Remove the sfingi from the oil and set them on the paper towels to cool.
Coat in Sugar
- Prepare another bowl with granulated sugar.
- Roll the cooled sfingi in the sugar, coating it completely.
- Make yourself a cup of espresso and enjoy your perfectly golden sfingi!
For best results use fresh oil for frying the sfingi. This will ensure a light golden color and fresh taste.
You can add several dough balls to the oil at one time, but don’t over crowd the pan. The dough needs room to spin and flip as it puffs up.
Check one for doneness by breaking it open. The center should be airy but cooked through. This will tell you how long you need to cook them based on the temperature of your oil.
A simple trick for coating the sfingi with sugar: Place sugar in a paper bag and drop the cooked sfingi in several at a time. Hold the bag closed and shake it to coat the sfingi completely with sugar.
Other St. Joseph’s day recipes:
Sfingi “Italian Donuts”
- 2 cup Water
- 1 cup Butter
- 2 cup Flour
- 9 Eggs Not extra large or jumbo
- 2 quarts Vegetable Oil
- 2 cups Granulated Sugar
- Combine water and butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.
- When the butter is completely melted, mix in the flour and stir until a ball of dough forms, then remove it from heat.
- Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and allow the it to cool until it is warm about 10 minutes.
- While the dough is cooling heat the vegetable oil in a sauce pan over medium heat.
- Add eggs to the dough one at a time and beat with a mixer until each egg is incorporated. The dough should be smooth and creamy.
- To test the heat of the oil, drop a tablespoon of dough into the oil. The oil around the dough should sizzle and after a minute or so the dough should start to puff up and expand.
- When the oil is ready drop the dough in half spoonful size dollops into the sauce pan. Depending on the diameter of your pan you can add several dollops at a time. Just don't over crowd the pan, you want the dough to have enough room to spin and turn as it puffs up.
- Allow the dough to cook for about 10 minutes. The sfingi should be golden in color but you don't want them to be too dark.
- Prepare a bowl and line it with paper towels.
- When the sfingi is done remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon and place it in a bowl lined with paper towels. Allow the sfingi to cool on the paper towels for a few minutes.
- Prepare another bowl with granulated sugar. Just before you are ready to serve them, roll the sfingi in the sugar to completely coat them